This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Walker Rutter’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I find it ironic that the older I get, the more I come to appreciate this movie. You’d think for a 2008 Dreamworks movie called Kung Fu Panda that spent most of its marketing showing off the all-star cast instead of, y’know, the plot, that this would be very dated and would have aged poorly. But it somehow isn’t. It’s genuinely one of the most timeless animated movies of all time. The animation is beautiful and does not look dated in the slightest. Basically none of the humor relies on pop-culture references (which is something Dreamworks has a bad habit of doing sometimes). The primary characters don’t feel like caricatures and feel fully realized. The score and music by Hans Zimmer and John Powell feels powerful and moving (my personal favorite tracks are Oogway Ascends and Dragon Warrior Rises). The messages feel universal and timeless. I guarantee if this movie came out in like, the 80s, the dragon scroll would likely have been a magical MacGuffin. Tai Lung would have had it for a while at the end and he’d turn into some dark and powerful Kung Fu god. Instead we’re taught true power comes from within with self-confidence and using your innate strengths. I think when I was younger I was so used to the idea of the protagonist gaining some magic super power that they had to be “worthy of” in order to defeat the villain, that when in Kung Fu Panda they flat out just say “there is no secret ingredient. It’s just you”, it broke my little 5 year-old brain. Now flash-forward to over 10 years later and it’s one of my favorite moments of “expectation subversion.” Granted even if this movie didn’t have that message, it’d still have great animation, fun action, memorable music, tons of humor, great performances (especially from Jack Black and Randall Duk Kim) and several memorable quotes (particularly from Oogway). But the movie is all the better with that kind of message. Oogway doesn’t think Po needs some super-secret god granted to defeat Tai Lung. He believes his innate characteristics are enough and by extension the movie itself believes this. This is why he’s able to win. All you gotta do is believe in yourself. It may be a message that’s been done time and again in animated movie for kids but it’s execution in this movie is what makes it stand out among the crowd.
Oh yeah this movie also invented the best word in existence “Skadoosh” so it’s automatically awesome.