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Kung Fu Panda Movie Review

Kung Fu Panda: Defies Expectations

Before seeing Kung Fu Panda, I guessed the plot went something like this: A big dopey Jack Black-voiced panda bear dreams of becoming a kung fu fighter but has to reach deep within himself to find the courage to do so. In the process, the naysayers that surround said panda will learn a little something about judging a book by its cover. And it turns out, this is basically the case. However, going into it I wasn't worried that I knew the storyline, I was worried that it would be dull. If this tired premise isn't done well, it's just boring and a waste of time.

But the truth is, I was surprised and delighted by the filmmakers' decision to just stick to making this movie what it should be: light, visually interesting, and funny. It's as if they were telling us (grown-ups): "Look, we know a movie about a panda doing kung fu is just fun and we're not going to bore you with animated animal soul-searching. Instead, we're going to give you a cute, totally conventional story, without pausing to explore what makes the praying mantis tick."

To which I would like to respond with: thank you DreamWorks! To see why I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this flick and why I think it's the perfect summertime family film,


The word that keeps springing to mind when I think about this movie is "surprising." Jack Black is surprisingly restrained and while there is no mistaking that voice, this is a warmer and fuzzier Jack Black: charming, sweet, a little bumbling, but the nicest guy in the world. And all of those words also describe Po, the chubby, out of shape panda at the center of the story. Po works in his father's noodle shop but dreams of one day becoming a kung fu master like his idols, the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan), who have all been taught by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

According to a prophesy, it turns out Po is destined to save his village from a scary villain. Po's destiny makes the Furious Five resent him, and it means that the cranky Shifu has to teach the big clumsy panda kung fu. This is where I thought we'd be in for some predictable wax-on-wax-off moments, but again I was surprised by how lovely and irreverent the scenes were between Po and Shifu. Once it's time to get down to business and the kung fu really gets going, it is surprisingly good. It's no Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but it's genuinely exciting and well-executed.

Another example of smart decision-making has to do with Po's dad — who is a bird. The movie flirts with explaining how this is possible, but hilariously never goes for that father-son moment where he admits Po isn't really his. Instead, we just giggle along with the absurdity of it. In the end, it's a briskly paced movie that is aware of how many times the audience has seen this same thing (be it an animated feature or a martial arts film) and figures a way around all that monotony by piling on the charm and honing in on the sweet nature of the story. You'll probably leave wearing a surprised little smile.

Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Join The Conversation
ligaya ligaya 9 years
I was looking forward to this a lot - love any martial arts movie, big fan of the cast, and love animation. My husband wouldn't go for the midnight show but we saw it on IMAX on Friday. I saw it 2x (I do this with all movies I like - once for first impressions, then for what I might have missed the first time) - once with a gazillion schoolchildren, once with my hubby in a mixed crowd including single adults. Clapping at both shows. As Tony the Tiger would say, "It was GRRRRREEAATTTT!!!" Delivered big time, exceeded all my expectations, can't wait to buy the DVD. HEADS UP: stay for the end of the ending credits - there's an essential scene that's part of the story.
sofi sofi 9 years
We all loved this- well done and very funny. I love Jack Black!!!!!
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
I really just want to see the panda saying "skadoosh". :D
Kimpossible Kimpossible 9 years
We're going to see this tomorrow!!
i-am-awesomeness i-am-awesomeness 9 years
It looks cute :) I'm seeing it on Monday!
figurine figurine 9 years
Yes, yes, I'm definitely going to see this one. :D
fashionista119 fashionista119 9 years
This movie looks adorable. I won't see it in theaters (I rarely go to the movies) but will definitely Netflix it.
bigestivediscuit bigestivediscuit 9 years
This looks cute. Sidenote: Hi Tchan! :)
sofi sofi 9 years
We'll be taking the kids this weekend- thank goodness a decent kids movie is out. It had been a while!
northofantastic northofantastic 9 years
Yay! I've wanted to see this for a while now, but the lovely review makes me want to see it even more. Have to see if I can drag my friend with me. :D
pjona pjona 9 years
I saw the previews in the theater and it looked like fun, but you know how that goes - previews end up being way better than the film. Glad to know it was as delightful as it seemed to be at just a short peek. Thanks for the thoughtful review.
uptown_girl uptown_girl 9 years
Thanks for the review! My bf & I might take his nephew to see it!
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
My son is dying to see this, so we are going this weekend! :-)
Liss1 Liss1 9 years
I will probably check this out when it comes out on DVD :)
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Thanks for the great review, Buzz. I just may have to add this to my list of movies to see.
tchan01 tchan01 9 years
ditto to wren. But from what I've been reading about this movie everyone seems to feel the same as you buzz - which is that it was suprisingly good.
wren1 wren1 9 years
My bf really wants to see this and I didn't really want to, so good to know it doesn't suck!
Dana18 Dana18 9 years
My kids are going to see it today!
kcwebgirl kcwebgirl 9 years
i'm going to see this tonight and i can't wait. it looks too good to pass up!
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