Kung Fu Panda: Two Pack with bonus film Secrets of the Furious Five
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (6th January 2009).
The Film

Dreamworks CG computer animation wing has almost always played second fiddle to the Pixar, both in terms of the level of animation that each studio has produced as well as the level of storytelling and overall films that come out of the studio. In the beginning, Dreamworks had a sort of inferiority complex that lead to the competition between “Antz” and "A Bug’s Life" in 1998, building into the initial challenge between the two in the inaugural 2001 Academy Award for 'Best Animated Feature' between “Shrek” and “Monster’s Inc.” where Dreamworks grabbed more critical acclaim than Pixar culminating with the win for “Shrek.” After that, Pixar hasn’t let up and Dreamworks has not been able to really meet up to the higher standard that Pixar has set. Dreamwork’s latest original animated film “Kung Fu Panda” (2008) is one of it’s highest accomplishments so far in terms of animation and could have held a chance if for the few flaws that shine out in the film (and the fact that Pixar’s 2008 offering “Wall-E” deserves at least a chance at a 'Best Picture' nomination for it’s sheer brilliance).

As the title implies, the plot follows a panda named Po (Jack Black) who dreams of learning kung fu and hanging out with the 'Furious Five', a local group of Kung Fu masters idolized by the town. Unfortunately Po is stuck working in his father’s noodle shop and doesn’t seem to have much of a future outside of the shop. In the home of the Furious Five atop a nearby mountain, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has a premonition about the return of the villainous Tai Lung (Ian McShane) to the peaceful valley and so decides it is time to choose one of the 'Furious Five' to become the 'Dragon Master' who can wield ultimate power and defeat the villainous Tai Lung. A public ceremony is held to choose the Dragon Master where each of the Furious Five show their mastery of different styles and techniques of Kung Fu in order for Master Oogwai to decide who will receive the Dragon Scroll. Po tries to get in to see what’s happening and falls into the middle of the choosing ceremony, Oogwai accidently chooses Po, but deciding there are no accidents puts him under the tutelage of his apprentice Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to train with the 'Furious Five' and become the 'Dragon Master' before Tai Lung returns.

The intial impression directly comes from the animation, the film begins with a sort of 2 dimensional style that is well stylized and looks very good on it’s own, but used as an introduction it kind of sets the tone for the film as it transitions into the actual 3-D CG animation that has some impressive features and looks good in it’s own right, but for some reason I keep coming back to the initial 2-D style as what impressed me more. However the CG has good, moments of color and style of it’s own that help to give the film it’s own life and it’s own voice. One of the directorial/stylistic choisces that doesn’t work however is the too-frequent use of the slowdown noises in the different slowdown sequences, while these are attempted to get played up to comedic effect, they’re overused in the film and don’t let the film take itself seriously as a comedy through some poorly chosen comedic execution that doesn’t have the kind of laughing/staying power.

In terms of actors and acting, the film does a great job of casting some of the figures such as Master Oogwai with Randall Duk Kim doing the voice; a well crafted character both in animation and voice styling. Ian McShane is also a good stand out in terms of voice acting and character design, keeping his voice acting tuned to the character and the film. Jack Black does a fairly good job for the most part, but he can easily start to grate on the nerves. They use some major names like Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu and Seth Rogen as the furious five, and while they all work out fine with their characters they aren’t super noticeable (except for Rogen’s distinctive laugh and Cross’s deadpan awkwardness) and have very few lines to really make them stand out. Though I do have respect for the film in not trying to plaster their names all over the promotional work even though they don’t play too large of a role.

Overall "Kung Fu Panda" is not as bad as I expected, it has some good moments of animation and some well constructed fight scenes in terms of animation, though I do still question some of the directorial choices. The voice acting and story are inoffensive, though not particularly inspiring or astounding in any way either with a few frustrations that can emerge, but if you can get over that or have small children, Kung Fu panda is a fine enough film to sit down and watch once, though doesn’t really have the staying power for multiple viewings.

Video

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, “Kung Fu Panda” has some moments of animation that come through incredibly clearly and well keeping it’s visual style up to the quality of the film presented with no real grain pixilation or other problems, though it’s hard to expect anything else as the digital transfer should run clean on such a huge budget film.

Audio

There are four audio tracks in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. Te 5.1 surround presentation of the film works well, all of the levels are properly balanced and the sound seems to move properly. The music provided for the film works well and helps to keep the tone, though doesn’t amaze or become an additional character in its own right.
Optional subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

“Kung Fu Panda” comes in a 2-disc set, packaged in 2 separate amaray cases, including a large collection of featurettes, audio commentary, a bonus film, interactive games, jukebox feature, bonus trailers and some DVD-ROM features. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE:

First is the audio commentary by directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. Off the bat I really appreciate their candor, talking about jokes or ideas that just don’t work in terms of audience even though they thought they were funny. Overall the two do a good job talking about and through the entire film, talking about the animation difficulties that they encountered in the process of making the film along with some of the different plots or ideas they had from the conception of the film. It's a nice commentary track that gives some good insight into the making of the movie as well as some of the reasoning about why the movie wound up the way it did.

“Meet The Cast” runs 13 minutes and 14 seconds. This basic featurette goes through the primary cast of the film like the 'Furious Five', Tai Lung, Po and Shifu, doing interviews with each of the primary actors talking about their characters along with the directors throwing in comments about how the film was cast. There’s good behind-the-scenes footage, Jackie Chan is entertaining to watch in interviews, Jack Black throws in his own comments about each of the other characters/actors where he tries to be super Jack Black funny and David Cross even makes some funny subtle jabs at Black in his comments. A nice little featurette to go over the characters.

In the featurette “Pushing the Boundaries,” which runs for 7 minutes and 5 seconds, the directors and crew talk about the different levels of animation in putting together all the different aspects of the film from fur, to clothing, to action sequences to make it look as good as it wound up being. Another nice, brief featurette that goes through some of the complicated aspects of animation such as the rigging and frames necessary for putting together a kung fu sequence.

“Sound Design” runs 3 minutes and 52 seconds. This short featurette talks about how the sound was put together, talking with the directors and looking behind the scenes at some of the sound designing. A very cool featurette in seeing the side by side shots of the sound design team in the studio making all of the random noises recombined into the actual film.

"Kung Fu Fighting" music video by Cee-Lo runs for 2 minutes and 29 seconds. This music video just goes with the final ending music with some clips from the film along with some live action footage specifically for the music video.

“Mr. Ping’s Noodle House” runs for 4 minutes and 40 seconds. A surprising featurette where host of "Iron Chef" (2005) and food expert extraordinaire Alton Brown talks with Danny Yip, executive noodle chef at Mr. Chow’s Noodle House in Beverly hills, going through the making of noodles. Brown adds his patented enganging food commentary to Yip’s amazing noodle skills that are really nice to watch, as well as an ensuing noodle-eating commentary by Brown. It’s incredible to watch and a clever, fun addition to the DVD that goes the extra mile in creating unique and interesting special features specifically for the DVD release.

“How to Use Chopsticks” runs 2 minutes and 55 seconds. This featurette goes over the proper use of chopsticks for children, another fun featurette that isn’t nearly as interesting as the noodle-making featurette, but a good showing beyond the feature presentation.

“Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas” runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds. Jack Black narrates this public service announcement talking about the panda’s natural habitat and the danger of habitat destruction. A nice, important clip encouraging awareness through the website provided in the PSA.

“Dragon Warrior Training Academy” is an interactive game where the viewer goes through 5 different training rooms based on the furious five to become the 'Dragon Warrior', all using the DVD remote to navigate some kind of obstacle to become the 'Dragon Warior'.

The “Dreamworks Jukebox” is basically a collection of music videos from the Dreamworks catalogue. They don’t display any runtimes, but here’s a listing of the different videos available:

- “Shrek” – “I’m A Believer”
- “Shrek 2” – “Livin’ La Vida Loca”
- “Shrek The Third” – “Losing Streak”
- “Shark Tale” – “Car Wash (Shark Tale Mix)”
- “Madagascar” – “I Like to Move It, Move It”
- “Over the Hedge” – “Rockin’ the Suburbs (Over the Hedge Version)”
- “Flushed Away” – “Dancing with Myself”
- “Bee Movie” – “Here Comes the Sun”

There are start-up bonus trailers on the disc for:

- “Monsters Vs. Aliens” which runs 2 minutes and 23 seconds.
- “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” which runs 1 minute 50 seconds.
- “Secrets of the Furious Five” 1 minute 3 seconds.

The disc rounds out with some DVD-ROM features:

- “Printables" is a DVD-ROM feature that links you to a collection of printable items such as origami, coloring pages, or just a list of personality traits that match you to a different style presented in the film.
- Web links

DISC TWO:

“Secrets of the Furious Five” this short film acts as a followup to "Kung Fu Panda" where Po is now tasked with teaching an introduction to Kung Fu class for a large group of young rabbits and to teach them lessons about Kung Fu he tells them origin stories of the 'Furious Five' which each teach a different lesson in the non-fighting aspect of Kung Fu. The stories are all told in the 2 dimensional cel style displayed at the beginning of “Kung Fu Panda” and give a nice background to the characters. However only Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, David Cross and Randall Duk Kim reprise their roles from the film, which is odd considering there’s about the same amount of dialogue for the Furious Five in this short as there was in the feature film. In the end it’s a cool second example of the style shown off earlier in the film and adds a good stylized element in its own right.

“Po’s Power Play” is a grouping of interactive features clustered under their different purpose:

- “Learn to Draw” this feature is a set of interactive instructions on drawing the members of the 'Furious Five' and Po.
- “Dumpling Shuffle” is an interactive game with 3 bowls, 1 has a dumpling and they shuffle up the bowls, and you have to guess where the dumpling is at the end.
- “Pandamonium Activity Kit” is a collection of DVD-ROM activities including more printables, a game Demo for “Kung fu Panda” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” and a sound machine.

“Learn the Panda Dance” runs for 4 minutes and 28 seconds. This featurette features the dance choreographer and a group of kids from the Cee-Lo music video on disc one, showing the viewer how to do the dance featured in the video.

“Do You Kung Fu?” is a collection of instructional featurettes to the bare basics of the different styles of kung fu in the film:

- “The Basics” runs for 35 seconds.
- “Mantis Style” runs 1 minute and 21 seconds.
- “Viper Style” runs for 2 minutes and 9 seconds.
- “Tiger Style” runs 1 minute and 34 seconds.
- “Panda Style” runs 54 seconds.
- “Monkey Style” runs 1 minute and 25 seconds.
- “Crane Style” runs for 1 minute and 39 seconds.

“Inside the Chinese Zodiac” is another collection of small featurettes going through each of the Chinese Zodiac years (though it doesn’t make note of the lunar calendar cycle). There is an introduction which runs 35 seconds, then each year selection simply goes to another menu that lists the birth years for each zodiac animal, along with the traits, companions, rivals and famous (insert animal here) which just lists some famous persons born in the year of that animal.

“Animals of Kung Fu Panda” runs for 6 minutes and 15 seconds. This featurette goes through the different animal styles of kung fu and the actual animals that the styles and characters are based upon, using clips from the film and the earlier ‘Do You Kung Fu’ featurette.

“What Fighting Style are You?” is an interactive quiz that will tell you which one of the animal fighting style that match the answers provided in the quiz.

Packaging

These 2-discs are each packaged in their own amaray cases and packed side-to-side.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: B- Overall: B

 


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