Kung Fu Disappointment

I’d hate to admit, I was kinda looking forward to sitting back and watching Kung Fu Panda tonight. I’d heard it was good. Funny, and a return to Shrek levels of entertaiment for Dreamworks Studios. (I have to confess to being a true Pixar enthusiast/fangeek-girl, and to not having watched any Dreamworks films since Shrek 2.)

I am now watching the credits and cannot help but be incensed at the lost opportunites in this film. Yes, I am shaking my head, as you read this.

Mike’s playing the opening sequence again, because he needs to cleanse his palate after the foul stench of the rest of the film. As we watched it the first time, he kept saying “it’s a blatant rip off of Samurai Jack” (I had to look up the wiki reference and here it is, for those, who like me, hadn’t heard of Samurai Jack before. Watch this clip below to see what he means. I thought it looked a bit like Jamie Hewlett’s Monkey: Journey to the West).

Okay, so despite having copied the animation style from another martial arts kids show, the opening credits were quite cool. They set up the story nicely and the animation is quite beautiful. Handdrawn, 2-dimensional, and just really artistic. The voiceover (a sub-par Jack Black) sets the audience up for a traditional legend of a fierce warrior. All the characters are there, the legend of kung fu, the setting, the atmosphere… it promises to be a great little tale.

Alas, this doesn’t last long, before ‘Po’ – the Panda – wakes up, in his father’s noodle shop (his father of course is a goose. They never explain why, and why should they – it’s funny isn’t it?). The animation from this point on is, what I can only describe as, poor. The main character – a panda, the cutest creature known to man – is ugly. Not just ugly, but actually so badly animated that he is sometimes quite painful to look at. He looks nothing like a panda, not even an anthropomorphisized one (sorry, I just need to point out that I spelt anthropomorphisized right first time, without looking it up. Highlight of my night so far!) and at times is just plain creepy. This is a kids movie, isn’t it? The other characters fare slightly better, but if you can’t get your main character looking right, you must be doing something wrong!

My biggest grudge against Dreamworks animations is their lack of respect for the audience. Yeah, they’re aimed at kids, but give the kids some credit. Kids may laugh at fart jokes, but that doesn’t mean that the height of humour in your film should be a really really big fart joke. Surely not?!? In Kung Fu Panda they replace the fart jokes with fat jokes. The main character is a panda. They’re big and lazy. And this one is fat. (Never mind the child obesity issues around the world, and the message sent by a fat hero – whole different overcrowded bandwagon, which I won’t jump on now). So the highlight of the big final ‘epic’ fight scene is the panda sitting on the bad guys face. Yeah it’s gonna make kids laugh, but can’t you make them laugh and engage them in some kind of intelligent or emotional way too? Am I asking too much??? Dreamworks aim for the lowest common denominator. I’d want any kids (or adults) I know to aim higher than that.

Okay, terrible humour aside, did the story work and would you sell it to your kids? Basic rundown:
Big fat panda dreams of being kung fu master and impressing his heroes, “The Furious Five”. Wakes up to the reality that he works in his father’s noodle house. Then, the kung fu temple declares they are holding an Ancient Ceremony to find the “Dragon Warrior” – which the Furious Five have been training to become for decades. Only one can become the Dragon Warrior and read the scroll which will give them unlimited power. (All say “Ooooohhhh”). Panda abandons his fathers noodle cart, but because he’s so fat he reaches the ceremony just as they close the doors. Of course he finds a way in, lands in the middle of the courtyard and is chosen as the Dragon Warrior. (Cue: stunned angry looks from Furious Five and audience, surprised look on panda.) He has two days to train to become a kung fu master and fight off the bad guy who just happens to have escaped from his prison. Of course, panda’s master finds the secret to train him, he becomes ‘awesome’ and they all live happily ever after.

Moral of this story is:

You can be fat and lazy, because you’ll be handed the opportunity you want anyway and your laziness will pay off. But those who work hard and practice will miss out.

What a great message to be sending to kids…

My final two gripes, are the dialogue and voice casting. Just because celebrity’s get people in the door, doesn’t mean they do good voices. Dustin Hoffman (*cough*/*sell out*) is badly cast as the master. His voice varies with every scene and he just never feels right as Shifu, the master. Jack Black puts in his blandest performance ever as Po the panda. I didn’t know he was even capable of delivering in monotone, but he does his best here. Angelina Jolie sounds like she’s trying to sell you cosmetics. Lucy Liu (Viper) and Seth Rogen (Mantis) barely had one line between them. And poor Jackie Chan as Monkey had no dialogue at all. I think his script read:

MONKEY: Disgusted look

MONKEY: Unimpressed look.

MONKEY: Raises shoulders.

It’s animated. What a waste. Although Jack Black’s script only included three actual words between the “Oh… Ah…Aaaahhhhh… Huh? …Wah!…. Oh?…. Um”s.

I’ve already wasted too much time on this review. I know people liked this film, but those people weren’t me. I know it’s a kids film, but it doesn’t have to be a dumb film. I love Pixar films – Wall*E was genius – so maybe I’m spoilt.
Maybe I set my expectations too high. Maybe I should lower my humour or intelligence or expectation levels to be able to enjoy a film like this. But why? Why not have standards and expectations? Why not want characters that go beyond stereotypes? Why not have a story with depth and emotion? Why not tell jokes or have humour that remains funny hours after you’ve seen it – not just until the smell wafts away? Why not send positive messages out to kids? Why not give them realistic ways to achieve their dreams and not let them rely on luck or chance?

*sigh*

Man, I can’t wait til “Up” comes out…

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2 responses to “Kung Fu Disappointment

  1. Mike's just pointed out a few more details that irked him about the animation.
    The CG – supposed 3D – animation was incredibly flat, dull and boring (as well as being ugly!). It had no texture, no lighting, no dust or character to it. Why 'cheat' by using CG if you're not going to bother with any detail, or any of the things that CG is so good at? It's cheap and quick… and lazy. Like the film itself.

    Also, there's no character arc. Po learns no lesson. The 'lesson' Dreamworks spell out for you is: There is no secret ingredient.
    Maybe they haven't watched Toy Story or The Incredibles or any Pixar film – because they do have the secret ingredient, and it tastes good.

  2. When I wrote my review for Coraline, I said the problem with most animation studios is they make films that are just filled with fart jokes and pop culture references. This film proves my point perfectly (just replace fart with fat)

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