Jacob Martin (formally known as The Movie King)’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of the DreamWorks Marathon
The DreamWorks Marathon is back on track after a month-long hiatus due to that Halloween Challenge. And what better to continue than with one of their most beloved films, and one I'm convinced will go down as a modern CGI classic, Kung Fu Panda, essentially the studio's love letter to the classic martial arts films, but is surprisingly subdued when it comes to the typical comedy you expect from DreamWorks.
Gone are the fart jokes, the pop-culture references, and the adult humor there simply to make it "PG", Kung Fu Panda relies more on natural slapstick comedy mixed with genuine dramatic stakes to create the studio's strongest film since The Prince of Egypt. And it's an awesome film. Tackling Asian philosophy and faithfully respecting and honoring ancient Chinese culture, Kung Fu Panda's dedication in respecting such culture in a kids' movie should be commended.
As for the story, this is a film that tackles subjects that most kids relate to, a misfit who is selected to do the impossible, is harassed for being the oddball, but figures out a way to overcome the obstacles in a unique way. Sure that sounds clichéd as crap, but the ways the filmmakers go in still making that concept work both comically and dramatically with Jack Black voicing the flabby panda destined to be the "Dragon Warrior" is a remarkable feat, especially when the last time DreamWorks had Jack Black in one of their films, it was Shark Tale.
What really impressed the most on this viewing is despite being an inspiring tale for Po, it's also a great character piece for his master as well, Shifu, voiced also amazingly by the great Dustin Hoffman. A character struggling with the demons of his past, Shifu has to rediscover his love for the art of kung fu by willfully training a character that technically shouldn't have gotten the job but showed up through unusual circumstances, so he can finally achieve his inner peace, which becomes a major theme in the film's superior sequel, which is in my opinion the greatest animated sequel of all-time, but we'll get to that one when we get there.
Kung Fu Panda is one of DreamWorks' most essential films hands down, kickstarting one of the rare consistent franchises in animation history, and going all out in paying homage to those cool martial arts flicks. With gorgeous animation, a healthy dosage of comedy, drama, and action, and a positive message, the film delivers in all the right ways, even when the villain himself is kind of "meh." Not a bad villain by all means, as he has a personal connection to the mentor which works, but Tai Lung is definitely the weak link in an otherwise amazing movie. Other than that small gripe, Kung Fu Panda is an impeccable showcase of DreamWorks going beyond the crass jokes and creating something that Disney honestly wished they'd made.
And the Musical Shoutout is...
"Kung Fu Fighting" by Cee Lo Green ft. Jack Black (2008), the cover used for this movie. And... I find it absolutely dreadful. Cee Lo is a cool artist, but the way he completely sanitizes this song just to connect it with the message of the movie with half-baked lyrics and Jack Black only there to yell and scream... makes you wish they brought the original artist Carl Douglas to make fun of himself. Give it a shot if you're interested, if not, just wait till I likely talk about the original version for the Kung Fu Panda 2 review...