COMING TO TERMS WITH
published June 6,
now playing nationwide
Let me begin this review of Kung Fu Panda with an admission – I really don’t get enthused by animation whatsoever.
Even on the occasions when I recommend an
animated feature, it’s usually because of calculated respect, not multi-variegated passion. Take Ratatouille, last year’s beloved Pixar release about a gourmet-minded French mouse. I can see the technical
brilliance of it. But I couldn’t stand the rat. Or his family. Or his goofy human friend. Or his sappy story. That’s a problem.
You’re free to theorize what childhood
horrors led me to such a soulless situation. You’re free to speculate whether I enjoy breaking children’s toys on Christmas. But we’re really
not here for that. We’re here to review Kung Fu Panda, which I was pleasantly surprised to find
Dreamworks’ latest animated feature, the
story of a floppy-stomached panda bear who dreams of becoming a light-footed kung fu hero, contains all the sappy childhood nostrums that can
make cartoons so drearily predictable. But thankfully it doesn’t lay it on thick. It’s more Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. It’s interested in
dynamic action, the motion and color of which pop off the screen. It’s also quite funny. The fairly short film gets in, gets up, and gets out,
without unduly turning a children’s movie into an unwanted epic, and that’s the best praise I can give it.
So you know that panda that’s been telling
you to shut off your cell phone before the movies for the past, oh, year and a half? He in fact has a name. It’s
Po, and he lives in a Chinese village, providing clumsy help at his father’s noodle restaurant. This panda’s father happens to be a crane. Don’t
ask. I can’t figure it out, either. Of course, this overstuffed panda doesn’t dream of serving soup all day. He dreams of being a master kung fu
It just so happens that the local kung fu
temple (because we’re in China, every Chinese village has a kung fu temple.) is in need of a hero. A rebellious master (a wildcat of some
sort) is about to escape from his prison. In response, the kung fu master must identify the “Dragon Warrior” who will lead the fight against
the threat. To the dismay of a legion of meticulously trained warriors and a wizened mouse teacher, the tubby soup server mysteriously gets
the nod. So much for the wisdom of the ages.
Propelling the film along are some lovely,
richly-visualized images accompanied by wonderfully quick action. The highlight – an explosive escape from an Inferno-like prison. That’s
almost matched by a riveting five-on-one struggle over a falling footbridge. For balance, there’s a humorous and balletic joust over a flying
dumpling. The film even has a bad guy (or bad leopard(?), I guess) who’s cool enough to approach anti-hero status. You’re kind of happy when
he beats up the sissies.
Do I seem excited about this? Well, I
suppose that I am a bit. I have no real complaints beyond the usual shortcomings of a film geared for children. Which makes this a puzzling
place .But an enjoyable visit. Maybe I should try this more often.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com