Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

2008, US, directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

Kung Fu Panda opens on a high note, with a stunning dream sequence that's animated in bold colours and shapes by James Baxter, who very consciously channels the story's Chinese setting. After such an introduction, it's hard not to feel a little let down by the return of the film's regular world, which is animated in a much more conventional (digital) style; it has the beautifully rendered down-to-the-last-hair characters familiar from modern computer work, and which sometimes seem more interesting as an animator's challenge than as an artistic achievement that comes fully to life.

That's not to deny, however, the tremendous energy of the enterprise: even if the story is schematic and predictable, the film has great verve, with a brisk running time and several cleverly constructed set pieces (there's a prison escape that's genuinely thrilling, filled with foreboding). As the voice of Po, the titular Panda, Jack Black is excellent, wittily narrating that opening dream sequence - filled with Po's wildest hopes - and capturing the character's almost inexhaustible optimism in the face of what seem overwhelming odds. While there's quite an array of voice talent elsewhere in the film, it mostly seems under-utilised: only Dustin Hoffman as the kung fu master really develops a distinctive vocal identity, world-weary yet willing to take one last spin with a new pupil.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States