Monday, July 07, 2008

Who let the Panda out?

As I already mentioned in the last Weekend Update, I’ve been to the movies last Saturday to watch “Kung Fu Panda”. I liked the movie a lot. Why? Just read on.

The story as a such isn’t exactly new. Especially when it comes to movies for children, it rarely is. Panda Po is living in a little village somewhere in China with his (obvious foster-) father. He’s working in his father’s restaurant and dreaming of being a hero. Then, one day, in the temple above the village, the new dragon warrior is to named and Po wants to go there to watch. Through a row of coincidences (although the old master of that temple would say there is no such thing as a coincidence) Po is named the new dragon warrior, much to the dismay of the five students of the temple and their teacher. All of them, at first, want to drive Po away, but he stays ... while his fate in the form of a former student who turned evil is approaching. In the end, he naturally becomes the dragon warrior and defeats the evil guy - well, what else would you expect? It’s a children’ story, after all. The good guys are bound to win ... and in such stories the seemingly unable hero always proves able in the end.

But there are different ways of telling such a story. It can be told well enough to look new or it can be told so traditionally you’re wondering ‘haven’t I seen this movie before?’ throughout the whole movie. “Kung Fu Panda” is told so well you’re never really thinking about how old and well-known the story is.

The characters are well-designed, both in graphics and mannerism. They are unique in their ways, they can be recognized and leave an ‘imprint’ in the movie. (Well, especially the bad guy in the end, he surely leaves an imprint in the streets ... ahem, back to the post...)

Dreamworks has chosen a new path of graphics for this movie. Unlike their “Shrek” series, they have not that much strived to be as natural as possible (at least with the surrounding and thinks like hair, fur or clothing). Instead, the whole movie looks a bit drawn, even though it’s computer animated. As the story is loosely based on Chinese folklore, they are using Chinese- or at least Asian-looking graphics. Fur is there, but the natural fur patterns rather look painted on - and far more defined than you would find in nature with most beings (well, maybe not with the panda, but they’re easy to colour out by default). The same goes for the setting, which is the ‘feeling’ of a village in a faraway Chinese valley (and is inhabited by the most harmless beings of folklore everywhere: ducks, rabbits and pigs). The whole place (houses crowded together at the foot of the mountain, temple on top of it) looks like it’s been taken out of a painting - or at least the image a western mind would have of such a painting.

And the movie is fun to watch, aside from the novelty of the story or great design. All the puns are in place, the pacing is great and the fights are shown in the way I like them most: the way of old Asian action movies where time is slowed down and everything looks like a complicated dance instead of a fast orgy of broken bones.

Especially Po’s trainings sequence with his teacher is very well paced. After realizing how strong and agile his new student really is - when he’s not trying to do actual Kung Fu, but, for example, looking for something to eat, the master uses this to his advantage and Po develops pretty fast. It makes the training more game-like. (Instead of the rather painful experience it’s before the change.)

A lot of the funny scenes have nothing to do with what is said, but rather with what is done - and that works in every language, no matter whether, for instance, Po mimics his teacher in English, German, Spanish or Chinese. A noodle attached to his snout and two empty bowls are enough to turn him into a funny version of his master.

For everyone who likes to laugh, doesn’t hate animated movies and has the time for it, I can just recommend “Kung Fu Panda”. It’s a bit of money and ninety minutes well spent.

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