Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Pros and Cons of a Kung-Fu Panda

I can't believe how slowly things move. I can't even bring myself to the blog on a regular basis, because I spend most of my time job-hunting, or working on festivals. I just don't have enough to report on for the time being. Right now, I can at least offer up a review of Dreamworks' latest, Kung Fu Panda.

Let me just start with this. I have a particularly big problem with most of what Jeffrey Katzenberg's animation studio has put out in the past ten years. A lot of it follows the same routine. A bigger emphasis on the celebrities who voice the characters than the actual characters or story; and a plot that is built up around countless pop-culture references. They commercialize these movies to the point that there is no artistic merit to speak of.

Kung-Fu Panda, which I just got around to seeing, is still part of the routine, but with some definite improvements.

The Pros.
The animation here is a hell of a lot better than the previous Dreamworks Animation flicks. The characters don't have that horrible toothpick movement the Shrek movies have. The characters move and stretch in ways that are clear and easy to look at. Some of the expressions are really nice too. And the coloring in certain scenes is quite beautiful.

This is first time (I can recall) there being no recognizable pop-culture references thrown all over the movie's plot. This is a huge relief, because when there is a huge focus on pop-culture in a film, then the final product lacks a sense of timelessness. If this were my movie, I would want it to be remembered. I can't see anything about the Shrek movies being successful in another ten or fifteen years.

And finally. The movie is bookended with traditional hand-drawn animation. This must be a trend that started with nt-style:italic;">Ratatouille's 2D animated end credits. But in Kung-Fu Panda, there is a lot more of it, and it is beautifully stylized and colored. In charge of this animation is James Baxter, a renowned Disney animator. I must applaud Mr. Baxter and his team. .

The Cons.
There is still too much emphasis on the actors who play the characters. Everytime I saw and heard the Panda, I saw and heard Jack Black. I like some of Jack Black's live action work, but I can't applaud his voice over work. The same goes for some of the other actors: Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, and others). I have said it many times: some of these actors just don't know how to add charm and charisma to their voices in order to bring these characters to life.

The story and dialog felt like shadows of stories I have heard many times. There was nothing new or inventive about the plot, and I felt like I heard it all before. Some of the characters seemed like shadows as well. For example, there is a scene at the end when it looks like the Kung-Fu master has died, when in fact he is just tired. The way that scene is portrayed felt too predictable and the dialog was too chunky.

My opinion of the film is pretty mixed. It is not a perfect film, but with some vast improvements from previous Dreamworks movies. I guess I could watch this film again, but I can't predict what will become of it in ten or twenty years.