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Category:    Home > Reviews > Computer Animation > Comedy > Martial Arts > Kung-Fu Panda (2008/Blu-ray + DVD-Video) + Secrets Of The Furious Five (DreamWorks DVD)

Kung-Fu Panda (2008/Blu-ray + DVD-Video) + Secrets Of The Furious Five (DreamWorks DVD)

 

Picture: B+/B-/B-     Sound: A-/B-/B-     Extras: B/B/C-     Films: B/C+

 

 

DreamWorks has created a decent line-up of computer animated features that have usually been big hits, with the Shrek films being the biggest hits to date, but Kung-Fu Panda is easily the best of their CG features to date.  With a new sense of energy, wit, complexity and richness, the tale of Po (voiced with great enthusiasm by Jack Black) whose future seems to be selling noodles, but he really wants to be a master of the martial arts, but can a heavy set panda unhappy with his life really break through his hum drum existence and follow his dream?

 

Well, having a dream really helps and even following a goal as lofty and becoming a “dragon warrior” offers al kinds of possibilities, most of which the screenplay manages to find.  When the film arrived, many wondered about if it would work and what were its chances of being a hit.  When it was a huge hit and turned out to be a good film, there were those who thought it followed some conventions too much, but the real trick here is the component of Eastern thinking undoing the downside of Western thinking (no matter how great, both have limits) and though this is not some intellectual film, it does have a certain philosophy that turns those conventions on their ear.

 

Watching it again, it is nice to see a smart family film meant to be seen by a big audience that delivers and I was constantly impressed by how deeply and assuredly the makers delved into everything martial arts they could come up with, then animated it so thoroughly that it often smacks of brilliance and is too easy to take for granted in repeat viewings.  It has a love of martial arts and the best martial arts cinema much the way Stephen Chow’s Kung-Fu Hustle (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) did, making this more than a trivial one-joke spoof of such material.  Instead, this has much heart and soul, is a true artistic breakthrough for the studio and may go on to become a classic.

 

Helping Black with their voice talent are Dustin Hofmann, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Michael Clark Duncan, Randall Duk Kim and James Hong.  Co-directors John Stevenson and Mark Osbourne led the whole animation team and as was the case going back to The Prince Of Egypt, the studio continues to make rich research their top priority in a way that bears fine results.

 

A sequel that runs only a half-hour entitled Secrets Of The Furious Five is also fun and involves the same cast, but you should really see the big feature first before viewing it.

 

 

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is a little softer than I remembered, but the film has an interesting beginning with what amounts to an impressive hand-drawn opening dream sequence, then Po snaps out of it, is awake and the implication is that the CG world is the real world of the rest of the film.  That implies the 3-D-like CG is real in a way the other animation is not, but something special is left behind from the opening just the same.  Color is used well all around, especially since the idea is to recreate the colors of China past.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD is not bad either, but no match for the Blu-ray.  Secrets Of The Furious Five also looks pretty good and not some throw-away release.

 

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix on the Blu-ray is exceptionally good, better than just about any other soundtrack Paramount or DreamWorks has placed on either high definition format and enhances the narrative very effectively.  Hans Zimmer turns in one of his more interesting scores of late and this is sound demo material for any serious home theater.  Both formats have Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that are good, but not as good as the TrueHD by any means.  Secrets Of The Furious Five also has Dolby Digital 5.1 that is worthy of the original.

 

Extras in both formats for Panda include an Alton Brown/Food Network tie-in special, How to Use Chopsticks, a Music Video for the “Kung-Fu Fighting” remake, games, behind-the-scenes footage, Dragon Warrior Training Academy piece and a nice segment on how to Help Save The Wild Pandas.  The Blu-ray adds BD-Live features, trivia track and interviews with and storyboards from the animators.  Secrets Of The Furious Five has a few games for children.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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