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The International Writers Magazine: Kung-Fu Panda Review:

Kung-Fu Panda
with the voices of Jack Black, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan...
Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson.
Jack Clarkson review

When I heard that Paramount was making a movie called Kung-Fu Panda I wasn't all that impressed. The title sounded like something that had been written for a dare (Something the higher ups in the business like to call "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Syndrome".) And the first trailers seemed to portray the film as a shallow kids film focusing on fat jokes and people falling over...
When I went to the London Premiere I realised how wrong I was!

The movie follows Po (Jack Black), a Panda with dreams of becoming a martial artist, but a reality of being a noodle chef. As is the way of all children's stories, the dreams turn out to be more likely than reality when a wise old turtle proclaims him "The Dragon Warrior", with the fate of defeating Tai Lung, one of the greatest animated villains since Scar from the Lion King. Needless to say, all the real martial artists (voiced by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu no less) who had trained for all their lives for this title are none too pleased...

The animation style may look childish and simplistic at first glance, but appearances can be deceiving. The aesthetic lends itself perfectly to the fight scenes in which my face pretty much melted off. The action takes inspiration from movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers. But the visual style means that there are literally no limits to what the characters can do. What results is a movie in which I genuinely became engrossed and would happily watch again just for those battle sequences.

The CGI animation is, unsurprisingly, the best Dreamworks has made so far. But Kung-Fu Panda uses it perfectly and pushes the boundaries of the medium to new heights. As a friend once told me, special effects are like ninjas, if they do their job right you won't even know they're there. I frequently found myself forgetting that this entire movie is basically one big special effect, I wasn't caring how well the fur moved or how the water was animated, I wanted to see more of the story. And that really means something in this day and age.

Many people are worried that Jack Black would simply by playing Jack Black for this film despite the fact he has the manliest forename ever... To which I can tell you with absolute certainty that when he does play himself, it really, really works. The opening sequence, animated as if it were a moving Chinese painting, had me in stitches from Black's narration. But when the drama starts, he leaves the antics behind and plays the part with a professionalism that may surprise some viewers.

The story is well written and extremely well paced, and while simple, (Come on! We all know how the final battle is going to turn out!) it is by no means simplistic. Po the Panda's growth from useless and adoring fan of the warriors to dragon warrior himself is well shown and fun to watch. And while a few of the jokes are just slapstick, it's either really well done slapstick or made up for by some moments aimed slyly at the adults in the audience over the kids heads!

This film is a kids movie in the same way that Shrek or The Lion King was a kids movie. And I fully expect that this one will stand among them as one of the classics for years to come. I'm certainly going to show it to my kids, if I manage to sire them all of course.
© Jack Clarkson July 1st 2008

Jack is entering the third and last year of his Creative Writing degree and will be specialising in Screenwriting
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