Kung Fu Panda Review
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I think it was about last November when theaters started running the turn-off-your-cell-phone spot starring Jack Black as a cartoon panda. So for the past six months or so, I’ve watched the panda berate that one guy in the audience for texting during movies—and, each time, I dreaded Kung Fu Panda just a little bit more. But, as it turns out, I just needed to have a little faith.

In the new DreamWorks animated film, Black stars as the voice of Po, a pudgy panda who lives in the Valley of Peace. Po loves everything kung fu—but while he dreams of becoming a kung fu master, he’s destined to spend the rest of his life selling noodles in his dad’s restaurant.

But trouble is brewing at the Jade Palace, the home of the great kung fu masters. Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has a vision that Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a rebellious former student, is about to escape from prison. The Valley’s only hope is to find the Dragon Warrior—the true kung fu warrior who will defeat Tai Lung and restore peace.

In a grand ceremony, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) brings his five brightest students before Master Oogway—who then shocks the entire Valley by declaring over-eager onlooker Po the Dragon Warrior. But although Shifu is outraged—and even Po is skeptical—Oogway urges them both to have faith.

Like the great Master Shifu, I, too, was pretty skeptical about the whole thing—mostly because Jack Black is one of those comic actors who’s either on or really, really off. But, much to my surprise (not to mention my great relief), all of those things about Black that start to wear on your nerves after a while—the goofy facial expressions and spontaneous dance moves and random scatting—just fall away when he’s playing a cartoon panda. Sure, the panda version is still big and goofy, but he’s actually quite lovable. Go figure.

At the same time, while Black’s most annoying qualities seem to disappear, many of his best qualities manage to come shining through. Like Black, Po is easy-going and up for anything. He’s wide-eyed and eager—and he doesn’t really care if he looks goofy. And that goofiness is exactly what kids will love about him.

The movie is full of slapstick silliness. Po takes a beating time and time again. He’s knocked down and pushed around and smacked in the face—then he jumps right back up and takes some more. While it may not be the most intelligent comedy, you can’t help but giggle at this unlikely kung fu student’s antics.

As a result, Kung Fu Panda is a fun movie for the whole family. It’s rich and colorful, and the animation is simply stunning. It’s action-packed and entertaining, and it tells a cute story about believing in yourself and following your dreams. And, best of all, it’s filled with silly slapstick moments that will keep the kids giggling from start to finish. So as long as you’re willing to endure a few days of the kids kung-fu-kicking everything in sight, Kung Fu Panda makes for a fun night with the family.

DVD Review:
The DVD release for this fast and flashy animated adventure comes loaded with a plethora of super-short features that are both entertaining and educational.

On the entertainment side, there’s Cee-Lo Green’s “Kung Fu Fighting” music video, along with the Dragon Warrior Training Academy game, which teaches you all kinds of kung fu skills (or at least kung fu remote control skills). Leaning more toward the educational side is an instructional feature on eating with chopsticks, as well as a short feature (hosted by Jack Black) on environmental foundation Conservation International. There’s also a feature with the Food Network’s Alton Brown (host of Iron Chef America), who goes to Beverly Hills restaurant Mr. Chow to find out how noodles are made. Don’t miss this one; you’ll be so amazed that you’ll have to watch it twice.

Of course, there are also plenty of making-of features. There are trailers and cast interviews and a feature on the film’s animation. My personal favorite, simply called Sound Design, shows exactly how the sound guys created the sound effects (the best of which involves a bald guy and a plunger). And, finally, there’s an insightful commentary with directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, who discuss the animation, the characters, and the story’s various incarnations.

If you’ve got a family full of Kung Fu Panda fans, be sure to pick up the DVD. The movie’s a whole lot of high-energy fun—and the extras only add to the experience.

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