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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

KUNG FU PANDA (article first published : 2008-07-2)

Whenever I see a new computer-animated movie I am on the look-out technique advancements when it comes to creating liquids and hair/fur, which have always been difficult to recreate and which were among the most dodgy aspects of the groundbreaking, but nevertheless still brilliant, Toy Story, the first of such features.

In this latest animated comedy, Kung Fu Panda directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, the animators impress in both areas and create a colourful and impeccably animated world where it is possible for a goose to be the father of a rotund panda (no mention of adoption).

The panda in question is good-natured Po (voiced by Jack Black), who seemingly lives only to eat but does have a passion for the art of kung fu, albeit just in dreamland and to observe it from a distance.

However, things are about to change – by a bizarre twist of fate, Po is named as the mythical Dragon Warrior by temple master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), an ancient turtle apparently blessed with prophetic vision.

The Dragon Warrior is the animal best suited to save the Valley of Peace from the nasty Tai Lung (Ian McShane), who escapes from a prison guarded by a 1000 rhino soldiers and seeks a fabled scroll reputed to have a magical ingredient.

Po, who can barely get out of bed in the morning because he’s so fat and unfit, is not the only one astonished at the announcement. Particularly drop-jawed about not having been chosen are the land’s five top kung-fu fighters - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross).

Also flabbergasted at the news is the Yoda-like grand master of martial arts, pintsize Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), on whose small shoulders must rest the burden of having to, by some miracle, turn Po into a lean, mean fighting machine.

The film is pretty low on plot and predictable to boot, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in some clever throwaway lines and some delightfully depicted facial expressions from Po. Also, imaginative action sequences are plentiful, none more so than the grand finale battle and an earlier Po-in-training sequence involving a battle over a dumpling.

Song-free (bar Kung Fu Fighting being used over the closing credits sequence), the film makes for a great way to pass a chill afternoon. Rating 8/10 - Billy Suter




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