Monday, June 9, 2008

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda

It was not the reviews that drew us to Kung Fu Panda, though it met the criteria we laid down. Likewise, it certainly wasn't the trailers, which failed to do the movie justice. What finally made a difference, in fact, was the weather, which surpassed 90 here in the city. In such circumstances there is inherent value in an air-conditioned theater.

Which brings us to our main critique: movies, at today's prices, should be longer than 88 minutes. Really, ten dollars should buy at least two hours respite from the heat.

Also, they could have used the time to develop several supporting characters, who were the truly fascinating aspects of the film, yet were only given a few minutes of screen time.

Still, there are far worse complaints we might wield at a summer movie than noting it was too short.

We consider it high praise to say that despite the distractions - of which there were many: this was a children's movie, and it attracted screeching preteens like flies to a corpse - we enjoyed the movie. It is difficult to imagine someone truly disliking Kung Fu Panda, as it is intrinsically likable. From the design to the voice cast to the action, this was solid film making.

But make no mistake: this was not a Pixar production. While good, it fell short of greatness. It was intelligent, and it made few serious errors, but it never shattered expectations or transcended its limitations. Were the ending stronger and the supporting characters better developed, we might suggest Panda had approached the level of Pixar. As it is, only Monster House has come closer, but there is still a chasm between the films made by Pixar and those that are not. One day, perhaps, a studio may close the gap. But that day is not yet here.

If you are only going to see one animated movie this summer, wait for Wall*E. But, if you enjoy animation as much as we do, then this is well worth your time and money. Even at a measly hour and a half.

On a scale from one to five stars, where five stars is Transformers: The Movie (the 1986 animated version), then we feel comfortable giving Kung Fu Panda three and a half. Fifteen more minutes of air-conditioned, brightly colored kung fu bliss would have bought it another half star.

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