DVD Review: Kung Fu Panda (Blu-ray)

Kung Fu Panda
Blu-ray Edition
Directed by John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
Starring Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 8, 2008

Any fan of Kung Fu movies is well aware of the fighting styles preying mantis or even the crouching tiger, but I am sure few have heard of the awesome fighting style known as the Kung Fu Panda. Luckily for us, the folks at Dreamworks have decided to make this lost art form as the subject of the latest movie, Kung Fu Panda.

Set in a fictional city in China known as the Valley of Peace, the story follows a panda with a lot of heart by the name of Po (Jack Black). Po works at his father’s noodle shop but his real dream is to one day be a kung fu master, fighting side by side with his idols, The Furious Five. Po gets his wish when wise master turtle Oogway proclaims him to be the legendary Dragon Warrior, a fighter destined to save the valley from the evil Tai Lung. Will Po be able to live up to his role as dragon warrior? Will the Furious Five accept him as one of their own but more importantly, will Po accept himself?

Kung Fu Panda is a computer animated cartoon that has a lot going for it. The story, written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, is one of the few stories in the Dreamworks lineup that does not need to add jokes that work on both adults and children. The script is just straight funny, has a heart as big as their main character, and should appeal to viewers of all ages. It also never once had to head down the toilet humor path to get a laugh, a move many computer generated films tend to make. This movie proves that comedy does not have work on two levels nor does it need to make the obligatory fart joke to get a laugh. If you write well, the audience will come.

The cast is great and, despite its all-star cast, is not at all distracting. With many of these films, producers tend to cast big stars and I always find myself taken out of the story by this. Personally, it is very hard to pay attention to the story when you realize that Zebra sounds an awful lot like Chris Rock but Panda seems to buck this trend. Even though Jack Black’s voice is so recognizable, his voice and his character Po meld so well together, it works. I can’t tell where Black ends and where Po begins and that is a good thing. Other A-Listers, from Angelina Jolie to Dustin Hoffman, and even Jackie Chan all have such recognizable voices, but I think because the voices fit the characters so well it doesn’t have a chance to stick out like a sore thumb. Kudos to the animators for making the characters such a perfect fit with the voices.

While the story is great, what is even better are the action sequences. The fight sequences are amazing to watch and breathtaking. Mixing comedy with fast pace action, they look like a Jackie Chan fight sequence in animated form. The movie does overdue it with the slow motion punches and kicks but it doesn’t ruin the fight scenes as a whole.

The Blu-ray edition does offer extras not available in the regular DVD. There is an animator’s corner feature that allows you to see the movie and the storyboards that play together simultaneously. It is really interesting to see how the movie was conceived first as a storyboard and then finished product. Other than that, there is not any other extras that the regular DVD edition does not have. There are the standard meet the cast featurettes, games, and even a music video of “Kung Fu Fighting.” Overall, the extras are pretty bland and not really that important.

What is most important about Kung Fu Panda is that is a great movie that is fun for the whole family. The blu-ray edition is worth it for those who are serious fans of the film, but for those just interested in the movie can just pick up the regular edition. With a sequel on the horizon, do yourself a favor and watch this movie.

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