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Panda doesn’t pander

My first reaction to Kung Fu Panda was, (bored, Droopy voice), whoopee, here we go again: hopeless slob (Jack Black, who else?) makes good in spite of himself, done with that trademark DreamWorks unattractive angular character design.

Mea culpa, friends. I just saw a lengthy promo reel for the film hosted by Ol’ Bullet-head himself, Jeff (nyah-nyah Michael, I’m still a player, what are you doing these days?) Katzenberg – and I am blown away. This is going to turn into an Anton Ego review (end of Ratatouille Anton that is), but here we go.

My first reaction to Kung Fu Panda was, (bored, Droopy voice), whoopee, here we go again: hopeless slob (Jack Black, who else?) makes good in spite of himself, done with that trademark DreamWorks unattractive angular character design.

Mea culpa, friends. I just saw a lengthy promo reel for the film hosted by Ol’ Bullet-head himself, Jeff (nyah-nyah Michael, I’m still a player, what are you doing these days?) Katzenberg – and I am blown away. This is going to turn into an Anton Ego review (end of Ratatouille Anton that is), but here we go.

This is the most gorgeous cgi film I’ve seen to date, in terms of the world it’s created for itself, surpassing Pixar’s best. There are some backgrounds so otherworldly they look as if they came out of a sci-fi film, while at the same time obviously inspired by Chinese landscape art.

But (as someone once said) you don’t leave a movie humming the scenery. Turns out KFP’s characters are quite pleasing to the eye – nowhere as angular as I first thought – and have more than a bit of emotional depth as well. First off, JBlack’s panda Po isn’t a deluded fool who believes himself a kung-fu master, he’s Kung-fu Guy: a fanboy who knows the intricacies of the art; he might fantasize being a master –

(SPOILER: in what looks to be a way cool opening sequence done in 2D to distinguish it from the rest of the movie – another straw in the wind re the return of 2D)

– but he’s totally aware of his lack of talent to actually participate. It’s a bit of self-awareness that instantly made me twice as sympathetic towards him. The characters were a beautiful blend of human and animal features, as furry – excuse me, ‘anthropomorphic’ characters should be. (Although there’s not much you can do to anthropomorphize a mantis). Dustin Hoffman’s red panda Shifu and Ian McShane’s snow leopard villain Tai Lung blend personality and species perfectly. (And Tigress Angelina Jolie’s ever-so-subtly glowing eyes – way cool…) Tai Lung transcends his stock-villain role via a brief moment of vulnerability and regret, while Shifu and Po enjoy character arcs that take them away from stock-character status as well. (Typecast Jackie Chan as Monkey didn’t have much to say in the promo reel).

The kung-fu battles are incredibly high-energy and amazingly choreographed – and in the cartoon world, the physically impossible feats are far more believable than they could ever seem in a live-action film. (As long as you can accept a universe of upright, clothes-wearing talking animals that is; then again if you can’t you have no business going to see this movie in the first place.)

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