I’ve never been a huge fan of Dreamworks Animation’s features. While the first Shrek was, at the time, kind of funny the subsequent films have just been loose excuses to hang a bunch of too-cool for the room pop-culture references and off-color humor that just stops shy of being inappropriate for young audiences.
That’s why Kung Fu Panda is such a refreshing change and, honestly, might be one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.
KFP is the story of Po, a panda who works with his father (a goose, a disconnect that’s hinted at just enough to be funny without being beaten into the ground) in a noodle shop in a small village. But in between slinging noodles Po dreams of being a kung fu master, idolizing the Furious Five, a group of kung fu prodigies who protect the village. Through a variety of circumstances, Po comes to be chosen as the warrior who will ultimately defeat a former student of master Shifu who turned to evil ways when he felt he was being overlooked.
The great thing about Kung Fu Panda is that it’s free of all the things that have cluttered the computer-animated features from just about everyone but Pixar. No characters break into Godfather lines, no one all of a starts laughing at a Star Wars joke. And, most surprisingly, there aren’t 78 crotch or poop jokes. Instead Po is good natured and well meaning and, while he’s not the most talented cat on the block, he never ridicules those who are more skilled than he is. He just keeps trying.
That’s why I’m so anxious to watch the movie with my kids. It’s completely appropriate for them, without any content that I would find objectionable or which I would worry about them emulating, resulting in my telling them to stop it. If there is it’s so miniscule I didn’t even notice it. That sort of situation has been in rare supply outside of overtly moralistic properties like Veggie Tales (which we love, just for the record). Everything is either completely, almost condescendingly pure or all about the fart jokes and telling people to shut up.
The DVD, available now, comes packed with extras that are geared toward kids, including activities and fun little featurettes that go behind the scenes of the movie and its characters. Some editions also come packaged with a bonus disc titled “Secrets of the Furious Five.” That short feature (about 22 minutes) goes behind the stories of the others that Po is training with. It’s animated in a more traditional style, one that’s very reminiscent of Japanese paintings and art. It’s quite enjoyable in and of itself, though obviously more so if you’ve seen the main movie. That disc has its own batch of bonus features that further expand on things.
I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda to a great extent. As I said, it ranks right up there with Iron Man as one of my favorite movies of the year and it’s highly recommended.