Jun 08, 2008|
Category I. Dreamworks has always ranked second-best when it comes to computer-animated flicks, trailing far behind the ingenious Pixar. Only their overrated “Shrek” came near the heights of “Toy Story” and “Ratatouille,” but things might be looking up for the studio with “Kung Fu Panda.”
In the Valley of Peace resides Po (Jack Black), a portly panda who dreams of one day becoming a kung fu master. When the great sage Oogway receives a vision of impending doom, he calls a town meeting to decide who will fight the evil curse as the next Dragon Master. To everyone’s horror, he chooses the potbellied, gluttonous panda as their savior.
The plot is bare-boned, a blend of the loser-with-a-dream standby and the underdog-facing-evil chop-socky classic. But despite the clichés, it all somehow falls together, thanks mostly to its dogged attempt to recreate Pixar’s success.
First step in this undertaking? Pay respect to your roots. Because more than anything, “Kung Fu Panda” is a postmodern homage, offering reverence while running a smart-ass riff through many a kung fu classic. And because of its source, the action quotient is high, with much of its fat-free 90 minutes crammed with deftly choreographed wuxia combat.
Cleverly ditching the now-standard puns and pop-music, the skirmishes are highlighted by their strikingly auteur-like use of color and cinematography, at times seamlessly blending classic and computer animation. It’s an astounding surprise for those who dismissed the slapstick trailer as yet another barnyard heehaw, especially considering the film never panders to its adult audience, the moral grounding being firmly rooted in Buddhist basics.
But it wouldn’t be much of a kid’s flick without its humor, and taking an obvious cue from “The Incredibles,” comedy is the second-place genre in this blockbuster. The restrained wit is funny enough for tykes to enjoy amidst the impressive action, while never eliciting eye-rolling nausea from parental chaperones. It’s a clever move that makes this enjoyable and surely underrated animation a highlight of the summer.