I’ve decided to reward myself for surviving a terrible day at work with an evening of Kung Fu. I had no real thought of watching Kung Fu Panda before a friend lent it to me, but it seems like a suitably low key entreé and so I whacked it in the player. And you know what? It starts brilliantly. It’s a bit obvious and blockbustery- well it would be- with the unfunny comedy actor Jack Black giving it all of that “in a time long forgotten” shit that every trailer for every expensive movie ever made has, but the animation is excellent. It looks amazing, stylish and bold and distinctive. I wasn’t expecting much at all and then suddenly I was sat there in awe thinking that I could be about to get one of those once-in-a-blue-moon happy accidents that can only happen when my expectations are near zero for something which breathtaking. I’d even forgotten that Jack Black was in it. Just consider for a moment how great it looks:
And then this turns out to be a dream sequence and the film switches to that impressive and hyper-detailed but oh-so-fucking boring and lifeless computer generated 3-D bollocks that all Pixar films are made with these days. I nearly turned off there and then. But I didn’t, I pressed on regardless. I hoped that there would be some kind of interesting story. There isn’t- unlikely hero overcomes self-doubt and an unconquerable enemy to save the village/world/universe may well have been done better elsewhere. I was hoping for some wit or a film that was clever enough for adults and cute enough for kids. It isn’t, though it’s certainly cute enough for kids. If I want to watch an hour of fat jokes and someone looking gormless, I’ll get a Chubby Brown video out (obviously I won’t really- I’d rather watch a puddle evaporate). And that’s all there is- Po the Panda is fat and clumsy and eats a lot and isn’t very graceful and smashes, rips or breaks everything. There was probably a fart joke in there too but I can’t remember it. All of which leaves the film to be rescued by the performances of its stars- and it is certainly a power cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen and- sticking out like an underpaid English sore thumb- Ian ‘Lovejoy’ McShane. And, maybe because he’s the only one who has to justify his presence, Lovejoy is the only one who actually shows any dexterity or interest or engagement in the role. Then again his character the evil Kung Fu expert leopard Tai Lung does have the showiest role and the best dramatic lines, so that’s probably why.
The biggest disappointment of all is Dustin Hoffman. His performance is so insipid and stilted that you wonder if the script had any direction at all. Hoffman is another of the De Niro/Pacino mould, resting on his laurels and content to sleepwalk and pick up a paycheck (as I believe that they’re called in the US. When was the last time he really tried? Even as far back as Rain Man he was obvious rather than inspired. Is there anything more tragic than wasted talent?
I’m done. The title sequence is the great. Turn it off after that because it’s professional and polished and wank. 1/10