Twitter Plot Summary: A slovenly panda with a passion for kung fu finds himself named the Dragon Warrior and tasked with defeating Tai Lung.
Five Point Summary:
1. Po likes the dumplings.
2. The Chosen One! (NB: Not The Rock)
3. Training montage!
4. Obligatory initial setback.
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get kids interested in an animated feature, you’re almost guaranteed a success if you feature anthropomorphic animal characters who can later be exploited mercilessly in the world of related merchandise. Step up, Kung Fu Panda. Except that it’s not as simple as that. Audiences today are, it seems, much more sophisticated than in the past, and therefore the types of films we enjoy has had to adapt as a result. Gone, for the most part, are the vacuous kids movies that have no depth, and instead replaced by a number of films aimed at children but still hold a hefty amount of emotional punch. We’re looking at you, “Up”.
Chock full of martial arts action, the story pays homage to the martial arts genre, and kung fu in particular, whilst wrapping it all up in an entertaining and kid-friendly package. This is helped of course by the anthropomorphic animals that inhabit this universe’s version of China. The cast of characters is led by a panda called Po (Jack Black, playing a panda version of Jack Black), a fan of kung fu and of the Furious Five, a team of kung fu masters who reside in the mountain retreat that overlooks Po’s home town. The Furious Five are an interesting bunch of classic martial arts totems – a tiger, a praying mantis, a monkey, a crane and a snake, all of whom are voiced by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Crane, Lucy Liu and Seth Rogen. Throw in Dustin Hoffman as their mentor/sensei Shifu and you habe a solid star cast. The return of an evil villain, a cat by the name of Tai Lung and played with British menace by Ian McShane, is foretold and the Dragon Warrior must be selected in order to defeat him. As you might expect, against all odds Po the overweight and unskilled panda is chosen, and he has to quickly learn the ways of kung fu and prove to everybody that he has what it takes.
The majority of the film follows Po as he trains to become the Dragon Warrior, spurred on by his almost childlike levels of enthusiasm for kung fu and the Furious Five who he now sits alongside. And this is mich of Po’s charm – he’s more excited than the audience to find himself where he is and not serving food in his father’s noodle restaurant. His father is a goose, by the way, but more on that in the sequel. He’s also voiced by James Hong, who is a veritable legend.
It’s clear that the makers are also fans of martial arts, as the fight sequences are structured with a breathtaking level of choreography yet never degrading into needless violence that is liable to cause a few injuries in the playground. Kung Fu doesn’t have to mean broken bones and bloodshed, but it can be age appropriate to a young audience by making it clear from the offset that those who do the fighting have spent years training. Except Po, but he’s so loveable that this never becomes an issue.
Kung Fu Panda no doubt helped Dreamworks Animation gain a foothold on the animated box office takings which had until that point been dominated by Disney and Pixar. Compared to many other animated films, and would help lead into the likes of How To Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Panda sequel. Because it’s a story that appeals to both kids and adults alike thanks to its ability to balances character development, action beats and the obligatory moments of humour.