Kung Fu Panda

Paul Cook 24/07/2008

Rating: 3.5/5

Let's face it - without the Shrek franchise what can Dreamworks honestly boast about that Pixar cannot instantly beat? With each and every film, with the exception of A Bug's Life, Pixar has edged closer and closer to animated superiority. In its 13 year official history as a feature animation company Pixar has released such groundbreaking titles as Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and just last year Ratatouille. Dreamworks, despite it's continued efforts, has released only two films worthy of going down in animation history books, and both follow a grumpy, green ogre named Shrek.

The opinion polls and critics' commendations weigh heavily in the favour of Pixar with its film averaging 94% on Rotten Tomatoes compared with Dreamworks lowly 68%. Although this is a rather scientific and systematic way of comparing the two companies' bodies of work, it does help highlight the weight that lies on Kung Fu Panda's shoulders, bravely taking it from Shrek whilst Shrek Goes Fourth and Shrek 5 are reportedly in production.

Nevertheless, despite such a huge, albeit implicit responsibility, the kicking, punching but more frequently eating panda, voiced by the energetic Jack Black, holds well as both an example of the advances in animation and uncharacteristically (for Dreamworks anyway) a solid, enthralling plot for youngsters and parents alike. With a generous helping of intelligent comedy which won't just appeal to the younger generations in the audience, it does have most of the vital elements which make a successful animated feature film. Although Kung Fu Panda is just another action-adventure with talking animals, a premise which Dreamworks habitually recycles year in year out, it is written well and animated beautifully. Vivid colours and fast, smooth action sequences are delectable and with a mixture of traditional hand-drawn, orientally-influenced animation and typical blockbuster CGI animation styles the film consistently pleases the eye.

Plot wise, it is erring on the side of predictable and yet it is still fulfilling in that the action plays out at an enjoyable, high tempo and the scenes involving Jack Black's panda 'Po' and Dustin Hoffman's Kung Fu guru 'Master Chifu' are cleverly comical and refreshingly original. Unfortunately one of the negatives of the film is that despite its A-list cast for voicing the deadly trained animals only Black and Hoffman are recognisable. Jackie Chan, the monkey and Lucy Liu, the Viper barely have a memorable line throughout and although 'Tigress' voiced by Angelina Jolie, has the most lines of the 'Furious Five' she is still a superfluous cast member. It is the film's excessively big-name cast, an element of animated films which is common but not essential, which slides so easily under the radar for the audience that make it a great film worthy of greater things.

Furthermore, without the adorability and subtlety of a WALL-E character and without the intelligence and observance of Ratatouille, an animation which captures the minds and hearts of kids and adults alike as fantastically as Toy Story and Shrek did upon release, Kung Fu Panda is a great summer movie but will not be one to watch time and again.