Directed by: John Stevenson and Mark Osborne / 2008
Jack Black’s latest vehicle to let us all know that he really is a bankable box office marquee name to stay, whether in human flesh or Panda Bear, was pretty much what I gathered from the “samey-so-so” trailers and TV spots, yet it also had a couple of pleasant surprises. One such surprise was that Black’s involvement in this fast-paced cliché animated adventure initially had me groaning from just hearing about it but as it turns out he scales back his “a little goes a long way” status with me and stayed well behind character. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t see him behind a couple hundred more pounds of Panda? I love Black’s characters in a couple of movies (“High Fidelity” and “Be Kind Rewind” come to mind), but for the most part he annoys the heck out of me (It’s hard not to hold a personal preference with reviews, isn’t it, but I’ll do my best?). Another surprise, though it might be more of a “Good Lord”, was that the film clocks in at under an hour and a half. Though hinting at 30 and claiming to possess a healthy dose of eternal “man-child”, I’m finding it more and more difficult to sit through more than an hour of cartoons. That is, unless it’s directed by Brad Bird or a Pixar feature or a pile of oldie-goldie cartoons from my youth (And let me tell you, they just don’t make cartoons like they used to!). Actually, I’m going to blame my antsy-pants on today’s computer animation. It seems that Michael Bay’s beefy and bloaty and dizzyingly action orchestration and edits have sizzled their way into influencing the bulk of Hollywood filmmaking, including the animation departments. Now, Bay didn’t have anything to do with “Kung Fu Panda”, that I know of, but I found the movie to suffer from an over-grown Panda Bear stomach of way too much going on and hard to keep up with. Or, am I just really slow? In fact, I tend to come away from many computer animated movies either confused or really tired. As an artist and a “man-child” you’d think I’d be gushing from the visual fruit tree on my tube, and I think that I do just a little bit as it can be pretty darn impressive. But, I think as a very hands-on and old-fashioned type of guy, I appreciate new computer animation more than I actually love it. The times I did find a gush with “Kung Fu Panda” came from the splices of traditional animation used in flashback scenes and I couldn’t help but think about how much more I’d like the movie if it was all rendered in this way. Is this what we now think of traditional animation, as old-timey yesterday stuff like black and white photography? Clever, the use was…but, it has me worried just a little bit as children and even most adults today have to have everything super-awesome looking. I think that my eyes and brain work so hard at enjoying a split second of the majority of today’s animation (majority: remember, I love Brad Bird and Pixar stuff) that by the time I come back to the plot, the film has advanced twelve scenes and I’m totally in the dark as the “know-what’s-happening” small children and baby boomers laugh it up and I pretend-laugh that I “get” it too. How do children and adults older than me keep up with this stuff? It’s just like watching high-octane action and heist movies and/or Michael Bay flicks. Though, with “Kung Fu Panda”, the story was so cliché and Jack Black didn’t annoy me enough to keep a heated and disgusted gaze that I didn’t really need to pay attention. By the credits’ turn I don’t think I really missed anything.