Kung Fu Panda

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Ian McShane, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Dan Fogler
Production Company: DreamWorks
Release Date: June 6, 2008

Watching Kung Fu Panda I was a little stunned. Watching the lush Chinese landscapes and real world lighting made me think “Is this a PIXAR movie?”. The backgrounds and attention to detail were THAT GOOD. It became immediately apparent to me that I wasn’t watching a Disney based company once the supporting characters were introduced. They were given so little to do, had flat dialogue that it wasn’t even worth putting the star voices names in the end credits. The characterizations were flat, given the virtual environment. That sentence even sounds a little clumsy as the characters are actual animals and the voices didn’t seem to fit as well as Panda.

Okay, the movie does have some highlights, even if the animation and story team didn’t talk to one another, they at least collaborated on the slapstick comedy and fight sequences. I found myself laughing at the fat-panda jokes, plus the role of Po, the giant noodle serving panda was custom made for Jack Black.

Panda discovers gravity exists only in the Pixar world

The movie opens with a 2D dream sequence of Po, the giant Panda. He’s daydreaming of becoming an ultimate kung fu master, while the reality is that he’s slinging noodles for his duck father Ping (the always hilarious James Hong). Po idolizes the ‘furious five’, the five kung fu masters of China, each a different animal with unique fighting styles: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). Their master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) needs to choose the fabled dragon warrior soon, and teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is sure one of his pupils is up to the task. After a series of hilarious events, Po is chosen as the dragon warrior, much to the dismay of the furious five, and even to Po himself. Master Shifu sees through this hefty panda and try as he might, tries to discourage him from learning kung fu. Meanwhile, the feared kung fu warrior Tai Lung (an awesome Ian McShane) escapes from prison and is on his way to steal the dragon scroll the furious five and master Shifu protect. With only the fabled dragon warrior destined to stop him, it’s a race against time to train poor Po the mastery of kung fu.

All these animals, yet no Kung Pao Chicken?

The fights are absolutely awesome, for a bunch of CGI pixels you can feel those hits. For Po’s fight scenes; a mix of Buster Keaton hilarity mixed with good willed kung fu, they’re fun to watch. Take the movie into context and for a moment watch the lush backgrounds and appreciate the natural lighting of the environment. According to Wikipedia the animators took years to develop the look, researching Chinese architecture to get the right look and feel. All their work certainly paid off, as you feel immersed into the world of talking animals.

If you want a beautiful looking family friendly romp that’s close to PIXAR standards, look no further than Kung Fu Panda. There’s enough laughs to keep all ages happy, but if you want something with a little more meat, the adults out there might want to check out the infinitely more entertaining, and subtle WALL-E.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: WALL-E


Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Robots, and co-starring people.
Production Company: Disney/Pixar

After first experiencing WALL-E, I was floored. It was a beautiful story with endearing characters, a social message, and empathy and yet there was no dialogue for the first hour! WALL-E is the last machine left on a garbage encrusted earth; he dutifully carries out his task: compacting garbage into cubes and making skyscraper sized works of art out of them. With humans travelling the stars with no real intent of coming back home, WALL-E has been faithfully carrying out his job for 700 years with no interaction with others, save for his pet cockroach. During all this time, WALL-E has succeeded his other brethren, seemingly still sane due to his lovable curiosity and love of collecting junk. I anthropomorphize WALL-E only because I couldn’t help but root for the little guy. He’s just doing his job until the humans come home; which might never happen.

Short Circuit 3: Jonny 5 in space

WALL-E’s home itself is a testament to all the junk people can create, but it plays towards the old saying: ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure’. Through it all, WALL-E cares for all his belongings and lovingly takes care of his pet cockroach, feeding him Twinkies, which I always figured would last a million years. His only interaction with people up to this point is a very old VHS (or possibly BETA) version of Hello Dolly that he watches religiously and at the certain scenes, longs for touching hands with someone else; it’s a lonely world for the little robot.

WALL-E’s world is turned upside down at the arrival of EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), the super sleek, overtly Macintosh-inspired lady machine, looking for plant life on earth. As luck would have it, WALL-E’s attempts at wooing her fail miserably until he presents her with a plant he found growing inside an old fridge; her prime directive in finding any plant life, she shuts down, waiting for the arrival of her ship to bring her back home. As it turns out, WALL-E inadvertently hitches a ride with the ship and right into the adventure of his lifetime.

Humans work their way into the story in the last act, which for me was the weakest portion of the film. Ultimately, the goal is to have human’s re-colonized earth again, rather than travel through the stars. The machines all have a life of their own, as simple as they all look, most don’t even have eyes, and rely on their zany movements or manic behavior to tell us what they’re thinking. It all works, beautifully.

“So, what was your cut of the profits?”

You have to give credit to the Pixar animators, as they really show what they can do even without interaction or speech. Compare WALL-E to Final Fantasy (2001) which was a technical achievement and you’ll see what I mean. Final Fantasy was more concerned about getting their characters to look and act like real people, a noble effort, but the end result is a puppet on screen with dead vacuous pixels. Pixar took the formula, and gave life to WALL-E, so much so that you get the idea that he’s looking behind the film to see who’s operating the camera. I still can’t believe the animators did all this without giving the title character a mouth, just binocular type eyes that only rotate up or down. The pure curiosity, the sell of the moment, the lighting of the picture was even presented as a historical document that I could have believed.

WALL-E is a story for every one of all ages, of all walks of life. There’s a social message hidden in there; namely that we can’t ignore our garbage problems, or just leave when the going gets tough. There’s little treats peppered throughout for the detail oriented, watch for other Pixar movie props to appear on garbage piles, and listen to the AXIOM computer voice, a little nod to an actress who made space cool again. The movie plays out like one of the great silent movies, there’s empathy, there’s pathos, there’s even a love story. I highly recommend this flick to anyone who enjoys a good movie.

9.5 out of 10