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Kung Fu Panda (Blu-ray)

There is currently a battle in the animation world between Disney Pixar and Dreamwork Animations to become the kings of the animation genre. Pixar have released brilliant films such as Wall-E, The Incredibles and the Toy Story series in recent years, but Dreamwork Animations have been keeping up via quality titles such as the Shrek trilogy, Madagascar and The Bee Movie. Can Dreamwork Animation’s latest film Kung Fu Panda provide unprecedented amounts of success and crown Dreamworks as the kings of animation?

Kung Fu Panda is based around a lazy Panda named Po (Jack Black). Po unwillingly works in his fathers shop selling noodles to the public, with his father dreaming that one day Po will take over managing the shop. Po, however, doesn’t share the same, strange passion for noodles that his father seems to and instead dreams of becoming the Dragon Warrior, someone who is the master of Kung Fu fighting. Po idolises “The Furious Five” who are a group of animals trained to an expert level of Kung Fu and must use these skills to defend the world from evil. A Crane, Mantis, Tiger, Monkey and Viper all make up the Furious Five and all bring a different fighting style to the group. The Crane and Mantis provide great agility, whereas Tiger and Monkey bring more Power to fights, along with Viper’s venomous attacks. The Furious Five are trained by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) in a temple on the outskirts of the city, away from the public’s eye.

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All is well in the world until news that the evil and menacing Tai Lung (Ian McShane) has done what seemed impossible and broken out of a prison protected by 1000 guards and is on his way back to the city to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his; the Dragon Scroll. It is believed that once you read the Dragon Scroll, you will become the best Kung Fu fighter the world has ever seen and unbeatable in every way. In order to stop this frightening event from occurring and Tai Lung using the scrolls powers for evil, the time had come for Master Oogway, the person (or Turtle!) in charge of the city and the Furious Five to give the Dragon Scroll to one of the 5 Kung Fu experts so that they could stop Tai Lung in his tracks.

Events do not unfold as planned, however. Against his father’s wishes, Po decides to attend the event where the Dragon Scroll will be awarded to one of the lucky contestants. Unfortunately for Po, the ceremony is being held at the temple where his heroes the Furious Five train which is located on a high mountain, with you having to climb thousands of steps to reach it. Due to Po’s less than desired physique, he arrives late for the event after struggling immensely to climb the steps to the temple. A strange and extremely fortunate set of events occur which sees Po being named he Dragon Warrior by the ageing Master Oogway, and this is a decision nobody else agrees with; even Po himself! Po must now train hard to become an expert at Kung Fu whilst battling against Master Shifu and the Furious Five’s negative opinion of him in order to defend the city against Tai Lung. What follows is a heart warming and comical story which is great fun for all the family.

Kung Fu Panda’s cast is glittered with an outstanding amount of Hollywood stars lending their recognisable voices to the film. Jack Black plays the courageous Panda Po with the scary Tai Lung being voiced by Ian McShane. Po’s unwilling trainer Master Shifu is voiced by Dustin Hoffman, with the Furious Five voiced by a stellar cast of top Hollywood names; Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross. The cohesion between this set of characters is incredible as they all work together and complement each other extremely well. Jack Black’s witty sense of humour is perfect for the lazy yet arrogant Po, and Ian McShane’s deep voice brings fear to the audience from his evil role. Every voice included seems to be perfect for the films style and character it represents; great job Dreamworks!

The script of Kung Fu Panda has been expertly written to provide a story suited for both Children and Adults. The younger audience will find humour in the films soft jokes and over-the-top Kung Fu action scenes, whereas the older audience among you will not only enjoy these aspects but also take fortune in the inspiring story of a delightful character rising from a no-body working in a noodle shop to the character responsible for the life of al others and the Dragon Warrior. The story and action remains funny whilst also teaching valuable lessons and morals; and not many stories in my memory do this wit as much gratification as Kung Fu Panda.

The animation itself is of course first class and a joy to watch. Character movements look natural and the fighting scenes are a great achievement. The different styles of each character all have an effect on the action, bringing variety to the scenes whilst being funny and effective. The animation matches each characters attitude in the film perfectly. Po’s lazy personality is reflected via his slouchy animations and poor posture, and these animations fit Jack Black’s voice to create a brilliant character. The film is naturally a very colourful affair with the dominant colours tending to be dark greens and reds, complemented well by shades of yellow and orange.

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The Video:
Kung Fu Panda fights its way on to Blu-ray with a stunning transfer which has to be seen to be believed. The films array of colours are striking on Blu-ray and the description of a sharp picture would be an understatement. The amount of detail seen throughout the film is incredible. Whether it is the water glistening on the shiny surface of the Dragon Scroll or Po and Tai Lung’s amazing detailed exteriors, nothing has been left out by Dreamwork’s animators. The transfer makes upgrading from the DVD version of the film to Blu-ray a very worthwhile decision. Fans of the film and the Blu-ray format itself will not be disappointed.

Don’t let the fact that Kung Fu Panda is an animation film fool you, it still contains a beastly soundtrack. The films 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is surprisingly good and adds all new dimensions to the film. Prepare to be amazed as sound effects whistle behind your ears in the rear speakers of your surround sound system as the Furious Five charge in to battle and show off their stuff or bass from your subwoofer engulfs your room as Po thunders to the floor. Kung Fu Panda’s terrific audio track complements its picture well.

Special Features:
Kung Fu Panda on Blu-ray will delight fans of the film with a ton of special features that will provide hours of enjoyment after the main feature has finished.

Dragon Warrior Training Academy – This feature provides 5 mini games where you guide a member of the Furious Five through their training. You will mainly use the directional arrows on your remote control for tasks such as leaping through rings when the timing is correct whilst using Monkey or guiding Viper safely through a maze whilst avoiding spurts of fire. These games aren’t challenging or particular fun but could appeal to kids and keep them entertained for a while. A nice addition to the disk nonetheless.

Dumpling Shuffle – This is a very simple yet addictive and fun game where a dumpling (piece of food) is placed under one of three bowls. The bowls are then shuffled around at varying paces and you have to keep an eye on which bowl contains the dumpling. The answer varies to keep longevity in the game, but the repetitiveness will likely make the game boring in a short amount of time. Good, easy fun which the whole family can enjoy.

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Learn to Draw – This is a fantastic feature for kids and drawing enthusiasts alike. A calming voice teaches you step-by-step how to draw the Furious Five. There are reasonably lengthy periods between each step which allows you to follow and copy what the animator is doing. Along with learning how to simply draw each character, you can watch how a leading animator draws Po for the film. This is a great feature that you can interact with and learn from at the same time. Top stuff!

Filmmaker’s Commentary – As the title suggests, you can watch the film whilst listening to a commentary track from the makers of the film. This track explains decisions of the film and how they came up with ideas, locations, and even the characters which star. Overall a good listen if you’re a fan of the film.

Trivia Track – Trivia Track is a terrific feature that, when turned on, makes interesting facts spring up throughout the movie. An example of this is a fact springing up stating the character playing Po’s dad started craving noodles whilst completing the voice acting for his character; a strange occurrence when you realise his character ran a noodle shop… Interesting stuff and a great, entertaining edition to the disk.

The Animator’s Corner – If you choose to have The Animator’s Corner switched on, a small screen in the bottom right hand corner of your TV will appear as the movie plays. In this screen will be animators of the film telling you why they included a certain movement or how they managed to pull of certain effects, among other things. This is a very interesting feature and upcoming directors/animators could even learn a thing or two.

Meet the Cast – This is by far my favourite feature on the disk, and there is many! Meet the Cast allows you to watch the stars in action as they provide the voices for their character and then also small clips of them speaking about their character and their involvement of the movie. Jack Black brings his humour to this feature and overall it is great viewing which doesn’t get boring.

Pushing the Boundaries – Pushing the Boundaries explains how the animators of the film try to improve the film compared to their other projects. You are shown the animations in their early stages and how they are progressed to the stunning end product.

Conversation International: Help Save Wild Pandas – This is a short video sequence where Jack Black states some interesting facts about Pandas and how everybody should come together to save these beautiful animals from extinction. It’s nice to see the people making the film caring so much about the topic the film is based on.

Do you Kung Fu – This is a fantastic feature which teaches you some basic Kung Fu moves from each of the styles the Furious Five uses. You can choose which style you want to learn and then copy an on-screen demonstration which is shown. This could be fun for young children to join in with, or even yourself if you’re feeling active!

The Panda Dance – I wasn’t aware of one, but apparently there is a Panda dance specially made for Kung Fu Panda! You can easily learn it via watching and following the easy steps shown by the choreographer and her dancers; not that you would want too…

Music Video – A music video accompanied to the famous song “Kung Fu Fighting” starring Cee-LO and Jack Black was made and released with the film, and you can now relive the video on your TV. A good and recommended watch if you like the song or are a fan of Jack Black.

Sound Design – Director John Stevenson explains how important audio is in animation films in order to make everything feel realistic and add effects to the animation. Videos are then displayed which shows a clip of the film being played along with how people made the sound at the same time. It’s fascinating to see how some of the sounds in the film were produced. A short but brilliant feature.

There are also a number of Special Features that provide interesting facts and history about China and locations the film is set in along with the animals that starred in the film. “Inside the Chinese Zodiac” explains how you can find out which animal in the Chinese Zodiac relates to you by finding out which animal ruled in the year of your birth. An interesting feature is included where you see a chef turn dough in to pasta and noodles, along with a feature explaining the animal fighting styles found in Kung Fu Panda and where the styles originated.

This Blu-ray disk flaunts an amazing amount of varied special features, I think you’ll agree! And the best thing about it all, every feature is in glorious High Definition! These truly are a joy to watch and add huge amounts of replayability to the disc.

Kung Fu Panda is a terrific animated film that manages to provide humour and an inspiring story at the same time. The humour and message the film sends will please both the younger and older audiences. Kung Fu Panda is pushed to the max on Blu-ray with a gorgeous picture and TrueHD soundtrack to boot. The amount of Special Features, and specifically the quality of the Special Features and unprecedented compared to anything I’ve ever witnessed and appear in High Definition which is a nice touch. Overall, Kung Fu Panda on Blu-ray format is well worth your hard earned money. My highest recommendation!

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