13 July 2008

KUNG FU PANDA (Dir. John Stevenson, Mark Osborne, 2008, US) - Solid entertainment but at who's expense?

Ever since Dreamworks Animation rewrote the rules for animated feature films, audiences have become a great deal more sophisticated in how they engage with contemporary Hollywood animation. The 'Shrek' films, that have got progressively worse, opened a new avenue for Hollywood in the 90s, self reflexive and postmodern animated feature films with references to popular culture aimed specifically at an adult audience that has typically been lumped together with the kids and treated as family entertainment.

'Kung Fu Panda' follows in the tradition of such films, this time skillfully plagiarising the great martial arts films to have come out of Hong Kong but fusing such playful references with an inspired approach to finding the right actors to complete the voice overs for the various animated characters. Only Jack Black could have imbued the character of a lovable Panda with such guile, wit and spot on cross generational humour. Po, the Panda who dreams of becoming as legendary as the Furious Five is the giant green ogre all over again, but this time his 'journey' is one rooted in the culturally familiar and narrow view of East Asian Chinese folklore that we all relate to as exotic and fraught with danger.

Such stereotypes of the East are not only representative of long held xenophobic attitudes that have circulated amongst the elite of the media and Hollywood in particular, they also capitalise on much of the current social fascination with the martial arts genre as evident in the international success of recent films like 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Hero'. However, none of this stops 'Kung Fu Panda' from being an incredibly entertaining and hugely enjoyable Hollywood summer movie, which means there is only really one thing left to say - Skadoosh!!!


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