Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

On the surface, 'Kung Fu Panda' seems like a silly, almost throwaway comedy romp. Almost a typical animated family-friendly flick...

'Kung Fu Panda' is indeed a very fun and almost unassuming comedy, but it's also an epic adventure that does a fine job at blending in some heart and drama. The inverse of the 90s Disney animated features, 'Kung Fu Panda' tastefully walks that fine line between being too comedic and too serious, once in a while it slips up a bit, but the film is so humble that you can't help but forgive it. It's one of those films that's lots of fun, and it hopes you have as much fun as it's having.

With a story that's rock-solid, 'Kung Fu Panda' also succeeds in other departments. The villainous Tai Lung is built up masterfully, while the training sequences are pulled off with creativity whilst having lots of great sight gags and bits of humor. The world the artists and animators have created is eye-popping and rich in detail, an alternate Earth where it's anthropomorphic animals and not humans. It's very similar to the likes of Disney's 'Robin Hood' and others, and it's always fun seeing the world reimagined with animals, especially when it concerns a time and place many moons ago. The creative team went all out in this department, for the world-building is fantastic. At times, the film aims for surrealism, going for sequences done in very beautiful, stylish traditional animation.

Bolstering this story, world, and storytelling is a fine ensemble of characters. Po is instantly likable and funny, and the Furious Five all have distinct personalities, particularly the stoic, mysterious Tigress. The rest of the cast is enjoyable, and the film also showcases just how "awesome" the Furious Five are in battle. The action sequences are some of the most thrilling in a computer animated film, staged with such verve and energy. They're a real knock-out!

The film's only issues are in the pacing and the climax. While Po's training certainly pays off, the villain himself is a bit underwhelming. Throughout the film they create this sense of dread, they emphasize that he's a force to be reckoned with. Sure, Po easily kicking his butt is a fun contrast to your usual action epics that end with a big, high-stakes battle, but in a way it's a bit of a letdown. The fight sequence, however, is still very delightful and loaded with lots of laughs so it isn't too much of a problem.

Best of all, the film's theme is quite a good one. Po loves kung fu and admires the Furious Five, but when he becomes the chosen one, he's continuously being knocked down... Yet he gets back up, and then we find out that he indeed can be a great warrior... But the "traditional" way of getting to that level won't work, and against the odds he becomes greater than he ever imagined. All of this is subtly woven into the story...

'Kung Fu Panda' stands tall as one of DreamWorks' best films, forsaking the reliance of pop-culture jokes and forced "edgy" humor that plagued a lot of their earlier efforts, telling a light but sincere story with a lot of heart, and a lot of pizazz whilst throwing in some cool world-building.