Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Reviews: Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E

Both Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E are excellent films, let's make that clear right off the bat. Choosing between them, if that was what one was inclined to do, is very difficult, because they are both excellent examples of animated film-making. They are both impeccably animated, of course, with particle and hair effects as brilliant as we have come to expect, and with amazing attention to detail on models and backgrounds alike. There is really very little difference, aside from the superficial appearance, now between watching a straightforward movie and a high-budget animation.

Kung Fu Panda tells a very traditional rags-to-riches story, following the attempts of the Panda "Po" to join the legendary group of Kung Fu Masters known as the "Furious Five". It's a simple story, but it's told with a lot of care, and has a couple of nice twists to it. Really the enjoyment of the film comes from the interactions between the varied and colourful characters, voiced by an incredible array of high-profile names.

Really, there are probably too many named characters, and the Furious Five really acts more as a single character, with none of the individuals really getting much of a back-story or ever straying much outside their basic caricature. It's a pity that there wasn't more for them to do, but the remaining major characters are fleshed out well, and the relationships between them feel very solid. In particular Po (Jack Black), Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as Po's trainer, and Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) as Shifu's trainer, are all well rounded entities, and their relationship is explored in some depth.

The portions of the film not concerned with character development are, in the established tradition of Kung Fu movies, mostly concerned with fighting. And the fights are fantastic (in all senses of the word). Managing to walk the line between cartoon and realism and making fast-moving, hard-hitting Kung-Fu moves inventive, believeable and easy to follow, even during some extended fight scenes. The camera sweeps round the action, but never becomes distracting, and the whole thing is tweaked for cinematic thrill in a way that can make live-action fights seem overly staged. The beauty of animation is that these scenes fit in so well with the rest of the film that they never seem out of place at all.

Overall, the film is hugely enjoyable, and bounds along at a great pace. It keeps the mood relatively light throughout, despite the darkness of the Tai Lung character (Ian McShane). There are some great lines and moments of physical comedy during the calm scenes, and even the fights feel for the most part like contests of skill rather than life-or-death struggles. The message of the film is simple but it pulls it off in a polished and assured manner, and despite a few slightly underdeveloped characters, the film is a great success.


Wall-E is a massively ambitious project, but with "Finding Nemo" and "Cars" under their belts, Pixar have proved that they are the masters of the anthropomorphisation of anything and everything. Even making fish and cars seem lovable and human fades in contrast to the achievement of Wall-E, though, in which we identify with, empathise with, and totally invest emotionally in simple mechanical objects that can barely communicate. The first forty minutes or so play out as a little silent-movie (minus the occasional whistle or repetition of the characters names), while managing to introduce the characters and develop their relationship. As if that wasn't enough work, they decided to make a cockroach cute and loveable too (name me another film in which an audience sighs with relief when a cockroach survives being crushed).

On top of all this styalised storytelling, the plot is actually relatively deep, with the position of the humans in the story managing to form an interesting commentry on modern society without pushing the point enough to alienate younger viewers. The humans are portrayed as huge, docile beasts, trapped in technology, emotionally stunted and childlike, with the robots having replaced them as the world-changers, making decisions and shaping events. Not taking their eyes off the screens in front of them, humans seem to have forgotten any desire for tactile, face to face relationships, and so even in that, the robots overtake them, as we watch EVE and WALL-E overcome the massive difficulties they face to simply hold hands.

Clearly the film is not going to support a rigorous technical examination (I had to turn off the bit of my brain that was questioning technical aspects of the robots' behaviour), but it is not an Asimov story, and it's not trying to be. It has a massive amount of charm and beauty. There is humour and emotion in both the relationship of the main characters, and in the huge detail of the combined human/robot universe in which the story is set. There are moments of wonderful comedy and real sadness if you can let yourself be drawn into the story. And with a story presented with this much care and love, surely that can't be too much to ask of even the harshest cynic.

I don't really know what else to say, except that you should absolutely see this film if you have the chance.


It's worth mentioning as well the short films that go before the films are represented here again. With Kung Fu Panda, the short forms a part of the story, whereas with Wall-E it is a seperate entity, but they are both marvellous, and it's great to see examples of compact, funny storytelling finding a place in modern cinema.

1 comment:

Patrick Roberts said...

still gotta see Kung Fu Panda... Jack Black is classic for sure, he'll be forever famous for his work in School of Rock