Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Kung Fu Panda

Review by Matt Starr

As the horror genre steadily goes downhill, the genre of animation continues to rise. Some of the best films nowadays are animated. Kung Fu Panda, the latest production from Dreamorks Animation, isn’t great like, Shrek, or certain Pixar outings like Finding Nemo or Ratatouille,  but it is surprisingly entertaining.

Kung Fu Panda works well due to the appealing nature of its main character. Po is an overweight, lazy panda that can barely get out of bed in the morning. He works in a noodle shop with his father (a goose) while secretly hiding his dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior. On the other hand, his father hopes he will one day take over the noodle joint.

The comical Jack Black, who is equally as humorous as a panda, voices Po to a tee. Black is really the perfect choice this flawed and aspiring panda. He is able to pronounce the right notes of both clumsiness and confidence when needed. Po is as appealing an animated character as the Remy (the rat from Ratatouille) and Nemo. You feel sorry for him when the real kung fu warriors degrade him, and you want him to succeed.

Master Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman, guides Po along . Shifu is outraged at first that Po has been selected as the next “Dragon Warrior”, and tries everything in his power to rid himself of this panda-sized nuisance. Shifu is consistently gloomy for a reason. There is something in his past that haunts him and this side story adds to the film.

My one major qualm with Kung Fu Panda is the lack of depth most of the supporting characters had. Besides Po and Shifu none of the other characters had pertinent roles in the story even though they were voiced by big name actors (Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan). Jolie’s tiger especially needed her role expanded, and with the movie playing at about an hour and a half they certainly had the time to do so.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Kung Fu Panda. The animation is top-notch and the fight scenes are very well crafted. There is a scene involving a dumpling that reminded me of the type of action I used to see from the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan. What separates Pixar from DreamWorks is the writing and storytelling. They are both great at creating visual art but Pixar is substantially better at creating characters right now.

4 / 5 stars


Review by Don Hill

Many consider DreamWorks to be the annoying little brother to Pixar in terms of the animated movie market.  Other than the Shrek series, they have been second banana in terms of money earned and (in most people’s opinion) quality.  I am not a fan of either company but since I cannot stand Shrek (point of fact, I loathe it), DreamWorks has a little bit of a disadvantage in my eyes.

The story, for those of you who were hiding under a rock or are curmudgeons like me, is of a fat lazy panda who dreams of being a kung fu expert.  Po the Panda idolizes the local band of fighters, known collectively as the Ferocious Five.  These five are highly trained animals and each is a specialist in their type of kung fu.  Po goes to watch the Master Oogway (an ancient and wise turtle) choose the new Dragon Warrior and unwittingly gets picked.  He then has to undergo rigorous training at the hands of a skeptical Master Shi-fu (Dustin Hoffman) in order to become a kung fu master, all the while trying to make friends with the Five, who all feel jilted to be passed over for this fat bear. 

I decided to give this film a shot even though I expected to maybe, slightly, kind of enjoy it.  Ninety minutes later I was still smiling.  I really enjoyed the movie, much more than I expected to enjoy an animated film with talking animals.  The story plays out very well and the voices are great.  Most of them are instantly recognizable and there are quite a few stars among them.  I am not sure how much of an impact that makes but Jack Black is funny when reciting his grocery list.  As a fat panda that becomes a master of kung fu he is hilarious.  And unlike Shrek’s Donkey, his one-liners are actually humorous.

This is a great kids movie and is definitely enjoyable for the adults as well.  If it can make me laugh, it will collapse most of you who are not mean old coots.  “Now there is a zero level.” 

3 ½ / 5 stars

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