Kung Fu Panda [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin & Noor Razzak (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 the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and presented in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film was created digitally and as a result this image was struck from the original digital master source and the result is fantastic. The image is sharp and detailed, the animation really shines on this format from the hair and fur on the animals to the detail of the production design. The colors are solid, bold and striking, black levels look great and overall the image is clean and pristine in its presentation.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Portuguese and Spanish. For the purposes of the review I chose to view the film with its TrueHD track. Much like the video the audio is just as striking, the film is made up of a plethora of active sounds that fill the space. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, the ambient sounds are subtle and well placed, the action scenes feature aggressive sounds that place you amid the action and the film's music adds a further layer to the mix. The track is an impressive audio mix that suits the film brilliantly.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

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 among other features. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

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.

Once you've accessed the commentary the video extras are separated into three sections; "Inside Kung Fu Panda", "Sounds and Moves of Kung Fu" and "Land of the Panda" these features are examined further below.

The first section is entitle "Inside Kung Fu Panda" and features:

The first thing we got here is a trivia track which plays while you watch the film and pop-up information appears on the screen. Basically covers various topics from production, to cast, to background information. There's a lot of repeat information here as seen in the various featurettes.

Next up is “The Animators' Corner” a Picture-in-Picture Commentary, this feature requires viewers to have a profile 1.1 player or greater to access. This feature includes pop-up video with the filmmakers as you view the film. At this time this extra goes unreviewed.

“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.

“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.

“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.

The next section is entitled "Sounds and Moves of Kung Fu" and features:

“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.

“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, 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.

The final section is "Land of the Panda" which features:

“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.

“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.

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”

The disc also included some BD-Live features which allow you to access the Paramount port online through your Ethernet connection. Viewers require a profile 2.0 player to access this feature.

Overall

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

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.