OK, first things first: Thank you Dreamworks! After a long time in history of the Mighty 3D this is one of the first 3D animated movies not from Pixar that doesn’t put out an obvious pop culture reference each and every minute (although there must have been a ton of Kung Fu movie references). And I don’t miss any of it. Instead the guys at Dreamworks tried to tell a story of a panda who wants to kick ass in big fights full of action and heroism as the dream sequence at the beginning establishes. That’s okay to me.
The action of Kung fu Panda is one of the highlights of this movie. Out of the four main action scenes in this film (the tiger escapes, panda training, the 5 masters against the tiger, the end fight) the training fight and the last fight were without a doubt the best ones. The directors managed here to mix fighting with funny moments almost as good Jackie Chan in his best movies. Well, they couldn’t reach the genius of a guy using anything around him to defend himself in funny ways, but they came close in some moments. I also loved how the end fight was serious at the beginning, when the master faces his pupil but gets lighter in its tone as soon as Po comes into the scene.
Story-wise they also went some new ways and I am glad they did it, although there are some problems with the story design in general. First and foremost Po is a lovable character. He’s your typical geeky fanboy who wants to be more than he is. He dreams of being the biggest hero in the universe who slashes thousands of villains but in the real world he is a fat and pale son of a noodle shop owner. But even more, he isn’t your guy who thinks he is the best one albeit his appearance. No, he knows he cannot be a master of Kung Fu although he wants to be. So when he gets chosen, he keeps being mostly a fan living his dream for a short time knowing it will be short. So, although he gets some load of kicks into his ass he goes along with.
And this is the moment where the message kicks in. Because although he thinks he cannot be the big mysterious master, he must be it, or better: he must believe he can be it. The message therefore goes along the way of “You must believe in your dreams or you will never reach them.” Sounds kind of standard in many ways but the execution saves it from being a total disaster. This is also due to the fact that this message is reflected in the antagonist, the tiger, who in this regard gets some dimension or two added to his character.
The plot as a whole on the other hand is something I am not really content with. Although the message is standard it deserved something better than the second act. You know, as the plot goes into the middle part of the second act the old master discovers that Po has some kind of hidden power in his as he is able to do remarkable moves when he just wants something to eat. So the master uses this to his advantage to accelerate the training. Although this idea sounds nice on paper it didn’t work for me on the screen. It felt way too rushed. I simply didn’t believe that a fat panda could become a master of kung fu in a matter of days or weeks. I know it takes years of hard training. And no animated movie can make me believe otherwise. Moreover, the hidden powers within Po are a cheap way out of the story problem as it flushes down the core message of this movie. No hidden power, no dream come true.
One way out if this problem might have been something they came up with themselves but for reasons beyond me didn’t use: Po could already have been a pupil of the masters. Of course Po would have been the same dude/fanboy, but being pupil who tries his best but doesn’t believe in himself. As well as everybody else. This setup also is as standard as hell but this way they could have solved at least this training problem. This would also have enhanced the message as it would show that you have to work really hard and believe in yourself to accomplish you dream. This way they could also have minimized this cliché of someone pursuing his dreams while being stuck in his low-level life.
On the visual side of Kung fu Panda there is not much to write about. When you have seen other 3D animated movies you won’t see anything shockingly new on the character and animation part. I think they made one big mistake in my eyes: the 2D animated sequence implementing some elements known from anime at the beginning was visually so great on so many levels it was a horror moment when they went from awesome 2D to standard 3D. It is really sad they didn’t go with this stylish 2D look for the whole movie.
Kung Fu Panda is not as funny as some other movies you can buy or rent today. But which movie is? This movie works best with its action sequences and the interesting main characters albeit being full of clichés. Generally the plot somehow ruined for me with its rushed feeling during the second act and the flushed down message. Yet, thanks to this movie, I slowly start to begin to hope that one day in the next few years one studio (not Pixar) will be able to produce a 3D animated movie with a strong story, strong characters without any sign of a silly attempt of being funny. And well, this alone is a some accomplishment of Kung Fu Panda.
By the way, there is one thing that nags me since I watched this movie: how can a bird be the father of a panda?