Review Covers DVD & Blu-Ray Versions
Cover Art and Menus: 8/10
As the semi-official reviewer on Ascully.com of all things kid worthy, I feel that I have a duty to put on my, as Ascully would say, “10 year-old kid hat” when reviewing these movies. The cover for Kung Fu Panda is of course the main characters from the movie, in Kung Fu pose, ready for action. What is not to like about that? As with all of these animated films, there really is no reason not to be bold and straightforward with the cover, and Dreamworks lays it out like it should be. The colors and high definition animation are on full display.
The menus are no less colorful, but take a slightly different route. They are presented in the two-dimensional style that often is displayed in the movie during memory sequences. It is really well done in the movie, and looks great on the menu as well.
When both are examined with my kid hat on, the cover and the menus are “awesome.”
- Commentary – There is a decent commentary track with Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne included. As with all of the animated movies, I find the commentary a little bit long in the tooth, but they do a decent job.
- Dragon Warrior Training Academy – This is a set of 5 interactive games, focused on each of the Furious Five. I am not sold on the inclusion of ANY extra game like this, but unlike most, these seemed very difficult for a change. I still say stay away from all of these so-called “games” on movie releases, but at least these were a challenge.
- Alton Brown at Mr. Ping’s Noodle House – This extra is basically a “how to” for making the Delicious noodles that are made famous in the movie by Po’s father, Mr. Ping. Informative, and short at under 5 minutes.
- How to use Chopsticks – Pretty self explanatory, as a young Chinese girl demonstrates the do’s and dont’s of how to use the two sticks without embarrassing yourself.
- Help Save the Wild Pandas – Jack Black takes a few minutes to talk about the wild pandas, and what people can do to help preserve the animals by protecting their native habitat. This was only two minutes long, and I found it interesting. My son was very concerned about the animals, and wanted to learn more.
Also included with the first disc were short features that covered meeting the cast, a technical discussion about how the animation was done, and a bit about the sound design. All were very informative, if not a bit dry. There was also a music video for a cover of the classic “Kung Fu Fighting,” with Cee-Lo Green. I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t know who Cee-Lo was, but apparently he has performed with Gnarls Barkley, which is encouraging. There is also the obligatory Jukebox included, which seems to be on every Dreamworks animated DVD release. It includes parts of various songs from all of the classic Dreamworks releases, like Shrek and Madagascar. Finally, there are various DVD-Rom extras included on the main DVD.
The Furious Five DVD also has various extras included. They seem to be more focused on activities, but they are plentiful.
- Learn To Draw – This was by far my favorite extra in the bunch. This is an 8 minute class on how to draw the various characters, line by line.
- Dumpling Shuffle – Another “not so fun” DVD game, which is a digital version of hide the shell card game.
- Pandemonium Activity Kit – This is the DVD-Rom part of the extras, that includes some printable images, a pretty nifty sound machine, where you can adjust and change the sound effects on some of the scenes of the movie, and a few demo games from Activision, a respectable videogame maker.
- Learn the Panda Dance – This is a video in which you are shown how to do a dance based on the moves of the Furious Five. I have to say I did not actually attempt to do the Panda Dance, as Ascully probably would have had to drive over and rescue me or call an ambulance.
There are also other extras that included a way to find out your Chinese zodiac sign, a piece on the actual Kung Fu styles that are represented in the movie, and a feature that will decide just what type of Kung Fu master style you would be based on answers that you give to some personality questions.
As I stated, the extras are extensive, but short on depth. This is a quantity of quality issue, but I can see many kids getting into some of the activities. It sure beats getting nothing.
The Movie: 8/10
Kung Fu Panda is an excellent animated release, and joins the excellent collection that Dreamworks has been giving us in the last 10 years or so. The story is great, and the acting and animation really bring this movie to life. I truly think that animated films are seeing a true renaissance with the visuals reaching new levels, and the story lines being so richly fleshed out. Dreamworks has a solid line-up, as does that other studio Pixar. The movies themselves are so well done that while my child can enjoy a purely fantastical cartoon, I as an adult get to enjoy the releases just as much. Kung Fu Panda is absolutely no exception.
Po is artfully played by Jack Black, who really just seems to play himself most of the time, but due to the fact that his personality is larger than life, it works in an animated arena. The gags and themes that sometimes make watching Jack Black in other films seem old are perfect for this animated, bumbling, overweight panda bear. Po is a true fan of the art of kung Fu, and he idolizes the local 5 masters. The 3 masters are all animals also, each with a unique style representing actual Kung Fu techniques. There is Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). Each has been trained by the Kung Fu Master Schifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman).
When Po, who works at his father’s noodle shop, tries to attend a local appearance by the Furious Five, as they are known), he stumbles into the arena in an odd manner, and somehow is named by Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) as Dragon Warrior. This of course infuriates the Furious Five, who put on the demonstration in anticipation of Oogway naming one of them as the fabled Dragon Warrior, who would protect the village. Everyone, including Master Schifu feels that somehow Oogway has made a mistake, and when Schifu is forced to train Po, who is more concerned with eating than training, Schifu tries to make life for Po so difficult that he will quit. Po, after some soul searching, decides that he will not quit, no matter what is thrown at him, and he searches to find his inner warrior, in order to protect the village from the feares snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Tai Lung was once a student of Schifu, but has turned his back on the master and is locked up for trying to control the whole village. After Tai Lung escapes, Po and the Furious Five are forced to try to stop the onslaught that approaches in the form of the dreaded snow leopard.
The animation style and the story are well done, and the pacing of the movie is really pretty good. While I would have liked to see more about the Furious Five, which would include perhaps a bit more screen time and story for each character, the main driving force is Jack Black. Black, as Po is really fun to watch, and he brings a modern twist to the rotund panda that is really fun to watch. I thought he was perfect for the character, or really the character was perfectly put together for him.
Secrets of the Furious Five
Well, the second DVD in this two-disc release is the Secrets of the Furious Five. At just about 30 minutes long, this is (like Shrek the Halls) an interesting release for a full DVD. I am not sure why this was not included as an extra with the film release, but I don’t make those decisions, I just review the movies. Secrets involves Po being tasked with training some young Kung Fu enthusiasts who are more concerned with “kicking butt” than learning about the secrets of the masters. Po details the rise of each of the Furious Five, which includes the important virtues that each had to learn in order to unlock their full potential as a Kung Fu legend. The short is very well done, and fun to watch, but again, why not just an extra on the DVD release?
Audio & Video: 10/10
The video on Kung Fu Panda, as well as the Secrets of the Furious Five is amazing. Dreamworks again has really done an amazing job with the standard DVD release, and I can’t imagine just how good this would look on Blu-Ray. The setting in ancient China provides the opportunity to use rich colors, and lots of vibrant reds and yellows, which just pop on the screen and add a real flavor to the movie that other Dreamworks releases have not really used. Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the picture is beautiful.
The audio is presented in (almost a given) 5.1 surround sound, and is beautifully mixed. Again, it is starting to become hard to find an animated release these days that does not look and sound amazing. as I stated before, this is a great time for animation.
I (Ascully) took a look at the Blu-Ray release of the movie and while I liked the actual movie the Video and Audio were just breathtaking. Video is handled by the AVC codec at a bitrate of roughly 25MBPS and audio is in the TrueHD lossless format. These type of movies are where Blu-Ray shines, no murky dark scenes just pristine colorful bright images throughout the entire movie. There were also no signs of compression artifacts or edge enhancement, this is right up there in the top tier of Blu-Ray releases.
Of course I loved Kung Fu Panda, and I really enjoyed the Secrets of the Furious Five, but there just is no excuse for releasing the two of them side by side as a package deal, when they could have been on one DVD. Especially at a time when cash is tight for everyone, this just seems like a bad move. I think that if you have kids, Kung Fu Panda is a must have for your DVD collection, but unless you can find this two-DVD set for the same price as the single disc Kung Fu Panda, I would not pay the extra money for a 24 minute short. Having said that, if you can find the two disc for the same price, or you run across the single disc, buy it. I enjoyed it, with or without my 10 year-old kid hat on my head.
Overall Score 8/10