Before Dreamwork's latest feature film last night was shown the trailer for Wall-E, the new Pixar effort that I wrote up earlier this week as, well, effortless. It was an unfortunate moment for Kung Fu Panda, because even though I was probably the only one in the screen to have seen the film, the trailer alone got more laughs than the first ten minutes of the film we had paid to see.
Is Kung Fu Panda a bad film? Not at all. In fact, especially not in comparison to the recent dire efforts of its studio. Is it fair to compare Kung-Fu Panda to Wall-E? Hell no. Will it be compared nonetheless? Of course. It wouldn't be right to compare the plot to Wall-E (though if I were, I would point out despite the relative simplicity of both, Wall-E remains the film that feels least laboured of the two on that front). There is one thing that can be compared, one must suppose, and that is the quality of the animation.
On this front, Kung Fu Panda is certainly not flawed. In fact, it is so smooth and fluid - especially in action scenes - that it feels just like watching Tony Jaa and Jet Li dukeing it out in animal form. The scenery itself is pleasent enough, and would defeat the Wuxi finger hold of any previous Dreamworks film.
The problem is though, as it always seems to be with Dreamworks films, that not enough money is spent on making the film watchable - both visually and in the manner of script and plot. Instead, it seems at least 60% of the budget is wasted on big name actors - many of whom are either totally out of place or completely wasted.
Why is Jackie Chan in a role dependent entirely on his voice? No matter how kind and funny a man he is on the red carpet, Chan's English talking has never been a strong point. And here, his inability to both speak and act with just his voice completely sinks his character. As a result, we barely here a peep out of the character in question.
The same goes for Lucy Liu, who for no obvious reason is shafted from almost every conversation in the film, leaving a smattering of lines for which she will have been paid more money than most of us will make in our lives. There is also, as far as I can tell, no added benefit from Angelina Jolie's prescence in the film. That said, I don't think there ever is in her films.
The only characters of mention are those played by Dustin Hoffman, who deserves some sort of Hollywood Knighthood by now, Seth Rogen, a superb David Cross, and Jack Black, who escapes lightly, gliding through a role that was far too easy for a man of his talents.
The whole film is dragged down by unnecessary big names, an issue that is common in Dreamworks. In Pixar's latest the studio sacrifice almost all celebrities, giving instead roles to R2D2 and the MacInTalk program. As a result, more care, time and money was spent on plot, characters and animation. For both films, the priorities shine through.
Is Kung Fu Panda a bad film? By no means, in fact it is most definitely a good film. It just isn't good cinema.