Action Movie Friday: Kung Fu Panda

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Kung Fu Panda
MPAA Rating: PG
Release: 2008
Genre: animated, martial arts, action
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong
Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Writer: Jonathon Aibel, Glenn Berger, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $130 Million
Box Office: $632 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%

Gingersnaps Rating: One and a quarter cookie!

Summary:

The panda Po longs to study Kung Fu and be a warrior like the Furious Five, however, he works in a noodle shop with his father and his dreams are far from reality. However, Master Oogway has had a vision and it is time to choose the dragon warrior. In a twist of fate, Po is chosen. Shifu and the Furious Five aren’t convinced that Po is the one and aren’t happy with Oogway’s decision. Saying the universe has no accidents Master Oogway tries to convince Master Shifu to train Po. Master Shifu tries his best to chase Po away so he can find the real dragon warrior. Po refuses to give up his dreams of kung fu.

Review:

Okay, to be fair, this review surprised even me. Apparently, I have strong opinions.

I feel that somewhere in Kung Fu Panda there is a good movie trying to get out. Somewhere under the second hand embarrassment, the arrogant kung fu master and his bullying students, there is a good story about not putting square pegs in round holes and that there is no fast way to power. Or maybe, I’m just not the right audience as some of this hits a little too close to home to make me comfortable.

There is a good message in this movie. I like the message! However, the movie felt more about the message than about being a good story. And at the same time, a story about martial arts blatantly went the opposite in showing how respect and compassion works in martial arts.

Look, Shifu was a bully. He uses his position of power and authority over Po to hurt him and try to make him quit without ever actually trying to teach him anything. Why? Because Po doesn’t fit what his mold of what the Dragon Warrior should be. Period. His students (minus Viper, who is more worried about Po being hurt/killed,) follow Shifu’s lead and tell Po to his face that he doesn’t belong in the Jade Palace because he doesn’t take kung fu “serious” enough. So, what were Po’s offenses? Being enthusiastic? Being big because his father owns a noodle shop and Po likes to eat? Being dirty? There was absolutely no justification for their behavior. And they never actually apologize for it. The students never express that they were wrong for the way they treated Po. But there are so many characters, we don’t really get to see the Furious Five that much. Shifu sort of apologizes. That is where the whole “trying to fit square peg into round hole” story line comes in. It doesn’t feel like enough.

Po is also a very awkward character. This is where the second hand embarrassment comes into play. Po is socially awkward. Has a father that doesn’t know about his rather blatant interest in kung fu. Po also seems to have no friends, (cue more social awkwardness.) And his mannerism are typical of an adolescent boy who has obsessive interests. Obsessive interests aren’t a bad thing and yeah, all of these traits are played for laughs instead of shown with compassion. A scene that stands out is very early in the movie where Po is talking to his action figures and he looks up and sees the neighbor staring at him in, I don’t know, disapproval, appalled fashion? Which promptly embarrasses Po. So, Po feels ashamed of what is actually very typical boy behavior? And this is played for laughs. It just makes me uncomfortable. And yeah, there are times when being made uncomfortable is a good things. Not when this is a kid’s movie!

Oh and as a villain, Tai Lung was not only felt like an afterthought but he was also grossly overpowered. And his “Shifu didn’t teach you everything” is rather melodramatic.

Like I said, there is a good story, struggling underneath all of this. It was drowned under fortune cookie dialogue, too many characters and plot lines. Quarter of a cookie.

There was no explosion that made me go “oh shit.” Yes, there was an explosion. It didn’t make me go “oh shit, it made me roll my eyes and go “oh lord.” No cookie.

The fights of Kung Fu Panda were interesting. This isn’t really kung fu. It’s wire fu. However, two things really stood out to me. Most of the animals were only good at what they were doing because of their species. We never really saw them do multiple things. Like, take Viper. Sure, we saw her practicing with the fire, but we also didn’t see her practice with the rings. So, it didn’t feel like they were well rounded at all. And once again, Tai Lung was so overpowered. He did his ki disabling punch on all the Furious Five but it didn’t’ work on Po. Po won the last fight because he was fat? And Tai Lung had an existential crisis? Half a cookie.

Tigress and Viper. Viper has so little impact on this movie, I have really nothing to say about her. She seemed sweet but really not much to say. And Tigress, they were trying to make her the stoic and in the end they made her so stoic, she ended up not having a personality. I think she and Viper were supposed to be opposites. They just weren’t shown enough to really matter. There were too many things that this movie was jugging. Tai Lung, the Furious Five, Po, Shifu and Oogway. The Furious Five and thus our two girls, really got lost in the cracks here. Tigress at least got some back story, but somehow I’m supposed to believe that she accepts Po after he defeats Tai Lung and accepts him as a friend when all I’ve got is a simple bow to go by. I just, I can’t. No cookies here folks. None.

I said in the fight section that this movie was doing wire fu rather than kung fu. There were two sets of physics involved in the story. The physics applied to Po. And the physics applied to everyone else. I have a hard time believing and staying in a movie when one character is jumping up on rocks as they fall down from the ceiling (completely impossible) and another character is having a hard time going up stairs despite having days of training. Then the character who has trouble with stairs is supposed to defeat the character who can jump up falling rocks? We need one set of physics because to me it became completely unbelievable. Half a cookie.

I think that Kung Fu Panda would have been better as a television show. There, this many characters would make more sense and each character could have gotten more screen time and development. One and a quarter cookie.

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