Kung Fu PandaPrepare for awesomeness.

Po is a big, loveable and overweight panda who works in his father goose’s noodle shop but dreams of nothing else than one day becoming a great Kung Fu master, in the tradition of the Furious Five, the five legendary Kung Fu warriors housed in the temple high above the Valley of Peace and trained by the red panda Master Shifu and tortoise Grand Master Oogway.

Hastened by Oogway’s vision of the terrible snow leopard Tai Lung’s escape, Master Shifu gathers the Ferocious Five in Tigress, Viper, Monkey, Mantis and Crane together in order to participate in the great ceremony that will see Oogway pick out the legendary Dragon Warrior from amongst them – and present to that individual the long forbidden Dragon scroll, the scroll that bestows ultimate power on whomever should read it!

Of course, everyone in the valley is more than eager to see this bit of Kung Fu history happen and rushes off to the walled temple, Po leading the way amongst them! However, an unfortunate turn of events locks Po out of the venue and he is forced to watch from outside the walls until finally one of his hair-brained schemes to get inside finally pulls through and he find himself landing smack bang in the middle of the ceremony!

Worse still – his unexpected arrival has also managed to net him the biggest honour of his life yet – Grand Master Oogway has selected him as the Dragon Warrior!

Incensed by Oogway’s decision, Master Shifu and the Five turn their attention to Po in order to force him to give up this silly dream of being a Kung Fu master like themselves, but time is running out as news of Tai Lung’s escape finally reaches the valley! And so the scramble is on to get Po to quit quickly enough so that one of the Ferocious Five can claim the legendary scroll of the Dragon in his place and thereby inherit enough power in order to defeat the rampaging snow leopard’s quest for revenge and save the Valley of Peace in the process!

Kung Fu Panda is a 2008 CG animated film from DreamWorks Animation and is directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. The movie stars the voices of Jack Black, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Ian McShane.

The first thing that must be said about Kung Fu Panda is that it is first and foremost an 80’s Kung Fu film at heart. The second thing that must be said is that it is simply one of the funniest, heartfelt and most fun movies that you’ll probably see all year, and is suited to both adults and children perfectly!

As I mentioned above, Kung Fu Panda is a classic Kung Fu movie at heart. Instead of going the tried and tested route of making CG films funny by inserting a lot of cultural and pop star references, Stevenson and Osborne have approached the movie as a homage to all those classic throwaway Kung Fu movies that China and Hong Kong have been pumping out for years, and in so doing have managed to craft the almost perfect Kung Fu homage movie. All the classic scenes and sequences from these movies are there from chopstick fighting to slow motion impacts.

The movie runs for an hour and a half and manages to squeeze in a thoroughly fleshed out and enjoyable story in the process. Of course, the use of loveable animals as the protagonists throughout certainly helps make the movie accessible to all, and indeed, also helps to push quite a lot of the humour of the story through. However, humour, cuteness and PLENTY of Kung Fu action aside, Kung Fu Panda also strives to teach us an important lesson (as do most of these CG animated films nowadays) of believing in one’s self and following our dreams despite all obstacles against us. The story contains a lot of sincere, touching and profound sequences throughout and it is exactly this aspect of the film that helps raise this movie to the top of the animated movie pile.

Visually, Kung Fu Panda is quite simply put a visual masterpiece, kicking things off with a fantastically funny and beautifully hand drawn 2D sequence that is nothing short of “Awesome”, before kicking into high gear and literally falling into the more traditional 3D CG approach. A nice aspect of the advance in CG graphics is that the character models are slowly but surely becoming less shiny and more a part of the world that they inhabit, and Kung Fu Panda certainly achieves this more real world colouring and shading to within an inch of perfection. Of course Happy Valley is a beautifully detailed, vibrant and colourful world, but it is without a doubt the characters who easily steal the show.

All the animals that make up the cast are beautifully realized in 3D, retaining enough characteristics from their real life counterparts to remain instantly recognizable but at the same time being wonderfully customized to slide perfectly into this comically animated world. Each and every character has a distinct look to them and one can’t help but fall in love with each and every one of them! Hell, even Tai Lung is simply too cute for words when he isn’t snarling and beating up on one of the rhino guards! :)

‘Special effects’ are also a plenty in this movie, particularly when it comes to the superb choreography employed for the multitude of Kung Fu tussles. Special attention was paid to each Kung Fu discipline practitioner’s skills, stances and techniques, meaning that you can instantly pick up on the authentic White Crane, Praying Mantis, Monkey, Snake and Tiger styles, a great touch if you happen to be at all knowledgeable in the field of martial arts!

Of course good visuals and a solid story are all essential ingredients in making a good animated movie, but in order to bring the whole thing alive you need good voices and that is exactly what Kung Fu Panda does – by bringing in just about the whole of Hollywood’s A-list talent! Big name stars like Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Ian McShane all voice the main characters, but most of these only have small speaking roles anyway and it is without a doubt the wonderfully energetic, heartfelt and madcap performance by Jack Black as the panda Po that makes Kung Fu Panda the success that it is! He turns Po into everyone’s hero that is loved by all and it is almost impossible to imagine someone else fulfilling the role as well as Jack does. Everything Po does reeks of Jack Black and it is almost as if Po’s very character is based on him in real life in the first place!

As with most DreamWorks animated films, veteran composer Hans Zimmer composed the score for the movie and of course the film features a very heavy traditional Asian sound which blends in beautifully with the story and the visuals, with the music itself being performed by the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra to add an even more Eastern feel to proceedings.

In summary, Kung Fu Panda is one of the more polished CG animated movies that you are going to find, presenting a beautifully relevant, heartfelt, entertaining, action-packed and humorous story that will be a certain hit with both young and old. It is the perfect feel good family movie that will have you laughing out loud and cheering right through to the end!

Highly, highly recommended (even if you don’t like Kung Fu movies in general!)

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Related link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0441773