Richard’s Year of Movies — Kung Fu Panda

I really wish I’d seen this before I saw How to Train Your Dragon.  It’s got all the signs of Dreamworks Animation getting it:  no beat-you-over-the-head pop culture references, no pop songs (until the end credits, at least, which I can handle), a much better visual style, and much better animation than their previous efforts.  But seeing it when I did was a lot like watching your kid crawl after you’ve already seen him run a sprint.

I really enjoyed how they run wild with being able to animate whatever crazy martial arts action they want to.  Ridiculous leaps and flips are lot easier to handle when it’s an anthropomorphic panda doing them, and they really take good advantage of the animal nature of the characters so that it’s not just a visual joke; the crane does kung fu like you’d think a crane would.  If you ever stopped to take time to think about such things, that is.

It does sort of fall prey to Dreamworks’ penchant for celebrity casting, though, as Jack Black does here what he does best — be Jack Black.  There’s nothing wrong with his performance, but it’s never anything but Jack Black in there, and I think that keeps a couple of the more affecting character moments from really shining, especially when Dustin Hoffman does such a fine job with his role.  The “big names” in Dragons blended in a lot better.

But really, this is miles beyond stuff like Shrek and Madagascar, even if it doesn’t quite soar the way Dragons does.  But hey, they had to get up on their feet before they could leave the ground.

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