Sunday Afternoon Movie: Kung Fu Panda Double Bill

Chris – my esteemed We Love Movies compatriot and the usual author of the Sunday Afternoon Movie column – and I have different ideas about what makes a good Sunday Afternoon Movie. Where – for him – a Sunday afternoon is a specific time that requires a specific type of movie, I find that the opposite is true: it’s the one day of the week that I have the time and the luxury of watching whatever I fancy. If I do have time to squeeze in a film on a weeknight, it’s generally something that has to fulfil several criteria: I’ve been at work all day, so nothing too taxing on the old noggin and I’ve got to be up early for work, so no three and a half hour epics. But Sundays… Ah, on a Sunday, I’m free to be my own man, to come and go with the wind and to watch whatever damn movie I please (providing my girlfriend agrees, of course).

And this Sunday? Well, this week’s choice was more of a reaction against my recent viewing trends; for a while now I’ve been on a mission to watch as many old horror films as possible (see elsewhere on the site for my recent review of the amazing Zombie Flesh Eaters – IF YOU DARE!!! …seriously though, it’s not actually a scary review or anything, you can read it, it’s fine). And while latex brains, horrific ’70s Italian fashions and gratuitously bared breasts are all well and good, a change of pace was required. Being a film-obsessed male in my thirties, I tend to swing between pop culture extremes; horror was getting old… It was time for some animation.

I had already seen both Kung Fu Panda movies once before and had been impressed by the obvious care and attention lavished upon them. It was time to crack open the Blu Ray double-pack for some serious Hi Def Kung Fu awesomeness. The disc goes in… And it’s all right there on the screen straight away. Shrek had left me cold – I’d found it charmless – but DreamWorks raised their game hugely with this. Pixar have led the animation field by such a distance and for so long that it’s almost embarrassing, but these films are clearly the work of real artists. Whole sequences are bathed in the most vibrant colours you’ve ever seen (the mind-blowing array of reds in Shen’s forges are the most intoxicating to have emanated from my screen since those of Suspiria) and the 2D hand-animated sequences in Kung Fu Panda 2 are doubly mind-blowing – first for being so visually arresting and second because they unfold a scene that is among the sweetest and most heart-felt in animated film since Jessie’s Song broke so many hearts back in Toy Story 2.

Like Megamind, DreamWorks’ other recent high-point, KFP succeeds for the most part by just being very, very funny. I’m not such a Jack Black fan that I’ll watch him in anything (like a lot of potty-mouthed funny-men – Will Ferrell for instance – I find Black funnier when he’s childishly over-excited than when he’s being obnoxious) but these two films genuinely stand as some of his best work. On second viewing, I found it surprising how many of Po’s laughs feel almost improvised; no mean feat in such an arduous, time-consuming medium and a real testament to the perfect combination of Black’s talents, a great script and some sublime animation. The casting director deserves a slap on the back; there’s some serious star wattage on display here but the names are classy rather than pointlessly flashy. Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Lucy Liu as the Furious Five are good, if maybe a bit under-used (and, in Jolie’s case, a little flat) but Dustin Hoffman’s Po-weary Master Shifu is beautifully dry. And though these remain Jack Black’s films, each one comes close to being stolen by its respective villain, with wonderfully evil turns from Al Swearengen himself, Ian McShane in the first and the one true Prince Gary Oldman in the second. Raising a serious level of threat (even if you know – deep down – that they don’t really pose a threat to our cuddly hero) they’re both heavy villains, with McShane’s Tai Lung’s prowling strength in great opposition to the preening Shen’s razored claws. It has to be said… These films are just too good to be wasted on kids; the first is very good, the second is great.

And so it rolls to an end, my Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening is here again and – if my mind is beginning to stray towards thoughts of the upcoming working week – I’ve at least managed to put adult concerns aside for a while and indulge myself in inventive set-pieces, great comedy, genuinely touching moments and state-of-the-art visuals. And we all know that there’s only one way to top that.

Time for a nap.


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