Po, a panda has to fulfill his destiny when Tai Lung tries to get his hands on the Dragon Scroll.
These philosophical lines from Bruce Lee perfectly captured the essence of Kung fu as an art and culture:
“Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” (From Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey)
But Jack Black as the gluttonous, bumbling panda, Po has a similar effect with a simple battle cry:
“Skadoosh!” (From Kung Fu Panda).
Is this another story about a young protagonist finding his life’s purpose? Yes, but it’s also much, much more. A tale complete with myth, legend, fun, kung fu and awesomeness.
Po is an obese, son of a noodle-maker, in the Valley of Peace. He enters the dangerous Shaolin-esque lives of sagely master Oogway, legendary master Shifu, and his Furious Five: Crane (Randall Cross), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan) and Mantis (Seth Rogen). The voices are interesting, fitting their characters perfectly and making them extremely relatable. Each animal represents a kung fu style, with a well-constructed, distinct personality.
The unique voice cast team make them so memorable, from the archetypal master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to his feral ex-student, Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Both Hoffman and McShane hold their own on screen, as former master and student. Tai Lung, the leopard antagonist, craves the Dragon Scroll. Only a dragon warrior is worthy of it.
The stage for a story of self-discovery is set, with life-lessons on self-worth and resilience. The values just keep coming. The line “How’s Shifu ever going to turn me (momentarily lifts tummy) into the Dragon warrior?” is met with another “Don’t worry master, I will never quit!”
John Powell (The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne) and Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight) weave sweeping melodies that you can’t get out of your head, that remain iconic. They really complement the tone of direction and breathe spirit and life into the environment and story with music.
“How’s Shifu ever going to turn me (momentarily lifts tummy) into the Dragon warrior?”
In the opening sequence there’s a flash of light, the bold title stands against a midday sun, a straw and rust-coloured sky. The camera pans down weathered green rock pillars, to a planked, bridge. Tall flag poles and bright red, fluttering flags. And a Panda’s silhouette, with a Chinese hat, staff and cape. “Legend tells of a legendary warrior,…” says Po narrating. The camera cuts much closer to him, “Whose kung fu skills were the stuff of legend!”
What follows is one of the best hand-drawn, 2D animated scenes ever. A beautiful, dream-like, sea of hues and shadows.
The creators understood action choreography and camerawork, and flawlessly adapted that knowledge for animation. The use of colour and light in each frame, makes for a wonderfully immersive, offbeat experience, setting it apart from regular 3D animation. Surely deserving of more than just a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film of 2009 and the 7.5 rating on IMDB.
This story-driven film is soaked with the ancient kung fu culture, recognised by movie-goers over the ages, world-wide. Maybe it’s the endearing characters, fantastic story or path-breaking style? Or simply the sheer awesomeness. There’s something extremely charming about the narrative- under all the gags there lies a beautiful story about self-acceptance...with a truckload of fun along the way.