Kung Fu Panda (2008): Finding the Power Within and Accepting Yourself

I’ve been planning to finish up my reviews of this Trilogy as it is one that I come back to given how great the action, themes and characters are and once again I was not disappointed. Really the only weak part of the first film is First Act pacing and some of Po’s jokes early on. Besides that the core conflict and arcs are fantastic and without getting into spoilers I highly recommend this film.

“Kung Fu Panda” was directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story follows noodle cook Po (Jack Black) when he is chosen as the legendary Dragon Warrior and must face himself and the trials of martial arts as the feared warrior Tai Lung (Ian McShane) breaks out prison to get revenge against his master and the valley.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – There is beautiful comic book stylized 2D animation when Po is telling his story of joining the Furious Five in a dream and after the main colorful 3D for the rest of the film. The animation looks amazing and captures the beauty of the valley and the isolation of Tai Lung’s mountain prison well. The animation is smooth too leading to some great action sequences.

The Action – The action is amazing in this with Tai Lung’s escape, Tai Lung against the Furious Five and Tai Lung against Master Shifu as the best action sequences. We have a prison falling apart, a fight on a bridge and at the top of a mountain temple. You feel the punches and action and it establishes how powerful the Furious Five, Master Shifu and eventually Po are.

The Characters – The characters are what make this film work as especially for comedy they have to. All the main and supporting cast I cared about and I’ll go into a few here.

Mr. Ping – Mr. Ping is Po’s adopted dad and owner of the noodle shop in the village. He is traditional in that he wants Po to carry on the family trade but he supports Po when Po discovers being a martial art master is what he wants. James Hong gives him so much empathy and he is one of the reasons this Trilogy works so well.

The Furious Five – The Furious Five are fantastic though they exist more as the great team with their base personalities being Mantis is voiced by Seth Rogen and grumpy but open minded, Jolie’s Tigress is distrusting and the leader, Jackie Chan’s Monkey is the jokester, Lucy Liu’s Viper is kind and Cross’s Crane is sarcastic. They are the main protectors of the village in the valley and are Po’s idols and eventual friends.

Tai Lung – Tai Lung is a snow leopard voiced by Ian McShane driven by the expectations he places upon himself and his master Shifu that eventually drive him mad with rage. He believes himself the best and it made him entitled and unwilling to have any self-reflection. It is this that leads to his undoing when Po takes the message of the Dragon Scroll that the answer is within yourself that defeats Tai Lung who never grows beyond outside expectations, ego and rage. He is a great villain and easily one of the best animated villains. He also has all the best action sequences in the film showing just how dangerous he is.

Po – Po’s arc is to accept himself and the power that is within. It is a great hero’s journey that works well because of his mentors of Oogway, Shifu and his father Mr. Ping. Jack Black gives the character so much humanity and I liked his arc of learning martial arts and coming to accept himself. It is organic an made sense as did his starting out as an outsider among the Furious Five and earning their respect.

Master Shifu – Hoffman’s Shifu is the heart of this film as his relationship to Tai Lung gives us some of the best drama. After his failure to teach Tai Lung humility he stopped complimenting his students. He becomes strict and it is only after Oogway’s death and him passing on leadership of the Temple to him that he learns and grows and finds how to play to Po’s strengths. He has a great arc and I like how he finally finds the inner peace he’d always been seeking since Tai Lung’s betrayal.

Accepting Yourself – A huge theme of the film is self-acceptance and we see it Shifu and Po who do and in Tai Lung’s failure to do so. The Tao and martial arts are used as the means of teaching it and it is done really well.

The Cons:

Slow Start – The beginning is all set-up from Po’s perspective, which is fine but the greater story is really that between Shifu and Tai Lung which is a lot slower to kick off than I remember. If Tai Lung had been made part of the story sooner the film would be better.

Some of Po’s Jokes – Po’s fake confidence is grating and I felt like Master Shifu in some scene of just wanting the action to move forward. When bad jokes happen and Po jokes too much the story stalls.

The first 2 “Kung Fu Panda” films are easily 2 of my favorite animated films and it was great returning back to the beginning of this amazing trilogy. If you haven’t seen it and want animated films with a deeper point and great action and characters than this is the film for you.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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