Day 362 - 12/28/09 - Movie #362
BEFORE: My personal connection to this film is that Ethan Reiff, one of its writers, used to live right above me in a condo in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before he moved out to L.A. - so I knew about this film years before it was released. Ethan also co-wrote the movies "Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight" and "Bulletproof Monk", and the TV series "Brimstone" - so tonight he gets a shout-out from me.
THE PLOT: Po the Panda finds himself chosen as the Dragon Warrior despite the fact that he is obese and a complete novice at martial arts.
AFTER: Yay, Ethan! This was a really good one. Lots of action, and the voices were really well cast, especially Jack Black as Po the Panda. Dustin Hoffman was also great as Master Shifu, and so was Ian MacShane as Tai Lung, the snow leopard. Holy cats, that was Angelina Jolie as the Tigress, and Lucy Liu as the Viper? I recognized Seth Rogen (again?) as the Mantis and David Cross as the Crane, but didn't recognize Jackie Chan rounding out the Furious Five as the Monkey.
What I liked about this film was that it at first seemed very unlikely for a panda to learn martial arts, in fact it seemed like he was picked to be the Dragon Warrior at random, and a poor random choice at that. But then once his teacher found the proper way to motivate him (using food as a reward) he not only trained hard, he found a way to put his size and his innate panda skills to work for him. He retained his "panda-ness", and didn't have to conform the same rigid training method the other animals did.
And that's important, since the members of the Five all had different fighting skills - one wouldn't expect a monkey to fight like a tiger, or a snake to fight like a bird. And just because no one had ever seen "panda-style" kung fu before shouldn't mean that it is without merit or its proper place in the dojo.
If I had any complaint, it might be that the kung fu action was a little TOO slick, and overly complicated. Some fight sequences were so quick, it was sometimes hard to tell exactly what was going on. I guess when you're dealing with CGI warriors, you can literally make them do anything, without worrying about wires being seen, or actors getting hurt, or the laws of physics. The only limits on the fighting sequences were the imaginations of the animators, so why not go all out? I just would have preferred that they keep one foot (just one...) in the realm of reality so I could follow along.
So there's a great message (you know, for the kids) about following your dreams and having self-confidence, and succeeding in your own individual way, and the message doesn't get too preachy. I had an experience of my own today while giving a friend a tour of the animation studio where I work - and he was a little envious of my job, which is something I should think about when the daily grind gets me down. I've had some great opportunities, and I've taken advantage of them in my own way, and I should remember how lucky I've been, since there are other people who haven't had the same opportunities.
But still, what was the deal with the panda having a duck for a father? Obviously he's adopted, but the film never addressed this point. Will we be seeing Po's mysterious father in the sequel? The IMDB's synopsis for the sequel (due in 2011) says that Po will "discover the secrets of his mysterious origins". OK, we're cool...
RATING: 8 out of 10 dumplings