Sunday, July 13, 2008

KUNG FU PANDA: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast (Voices): Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu
Director: Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
Rating: **1/2
Runtime: 92 min.
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Action

        Kung Fu Panda is another addition to the non-Pixar animation assembly line which consists of innumerable titles paying attention only to the gags. The storyline is an afterthought, an excuse to string these jokes together. So what we end up doing is hop from one joke to the next without actually going anywhere. I’m sure kids would love this film, they’ll probably laugh their hearts out when the fat panda Po (Black) bumps off the steps, or gets something pierced in his posterior, or he pulls out a contorted facial expression complete with a hanging tongue. And watching your kid jump about in his seats, you might probably catch on the laughing part too. But they’re kids you know. We’ve probably had our life’s share of the infinite-steps-leading-to-the-monastery joke, and I’m not sure adults would be able to muster a laugh all by themselves. I could barely register a smile. Oh yeah, lest I forget, I was barely moved even when the film tried it’s hardest.
        The proceedings are fairly predictable and the makers do not seem to be too concerned either. And since you’ve made it till here, I guess you would know the complete drill once I list the keywords for you – Over-fat over-weight panda, kung fu, kung fu monastery, a master, his best student gone evil, a relic, and a worthy warrior for it. There you go. Connect the dots and the story you’ll come up with in the next five minutes is the plot here.
        The film and its wit begin on a promising note. Flushed in red and its shades, the sky lush in orange, we are narrated in a devout tone the legend of a master panda, the master panda, who travels the length and breadth of the known world to find a warrior of his match. There is a certain freshness we feel then, and when the narrator (Black) injects his quirky ‘awesomeness’ we feel we’re in for a treat. Unfortunately, it is a dream sequence, and when reality opens into the morning, the film settles into that rather outdated plot where a misfit chases his dream and finally achieves it despite never seeming quite worthy or deserving of it. Kung fu spoofs that have long gotten stale are the means to achieve that end. What unimaginative means? What a tired end? I mean, haven’t kids already have had that believe-in-yourself thing done to death for them. More so through such a film where every tell-tale sign is pointing towards the contrary.
        The fallback joke is the fatboy and his anatomy. The problem is the film seems to fall back on it all the time. He climbs and falls, he gets stuck, he flies and bumps, and our end of the deal is to laugh. When a joke begins you know exactly how it’ll end. Take for instance the training stint with a kicking bag. Po unleashes all of his Jack Black attitude upon the poor bag, and even before he lands a foot upon it you know precisely who will get kicked. That is of course if you’ve made it till here. The training doesn’t begin until the second half, and once it starts it ends in a hurry with the master declaring the panda as awesome. I’m not sure I could digest that, but you might say this is just animation and comedy. Precisely. That is the failing of these films. They do not take themselves serious enough. There ought to be plausibility to proceedings, an animation-esque plausibility but plausibility nonetheless. We just ought not to be given news; we should care for the characters. The basics that work for live action films do work for animated films. And the vice versa does hold true as well. Just because it is animated doesn’t mean the audience could bombarded with tired physical jokes.
        But then, I may be over-reviewing the film. I believe I am. Kung Fu Panda is a run-of-the-mill Hollywood summer offering – predictable and safe. And with its Panda letting loose a kick poster it seems to be saying to the family audience – Look, I’m a panda with kung fu on me. A chubby panda. I just cannot go wrong with your kids. That is precisely the deal. The animation is great. The dungeons, the creatures, the landscape are all so exquisitely created. The action sequences are worthwhile enough for a young kid to wow and pow out of the theatre. What more does your kid need? Who cares if the voice talents (Jackie Chan, Jolie) are wasted? Who cares about novelty? Who cares about creativity? Who cares if the humor is jaded? A panda fighting with his bubbly paunch seals the deal any day.
        There’s a scroll at the center of the film that holds a secret so powerful only the great dragon warrior is worthy of opening it. When they finally open it, watch what it reveals. And then, think about the Midas touch of Pixar. Probably that there isn’t any. They simply are geniuses because, well, they are.

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