DVD Review: Kung Fu Panda & Secrets of the Furious Five-- Pandamonium Double Pack


In honor of today's DVD & Blu-ray release of the incredible animated film, Kung Fu Panda along with its straight-to-DVD companion Secrets of the Furious Five, I'm offering you an insider's view of the DVD that DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment were kind enough to send my way. However, before I go into the DVD features and review Panda's Furious Five sequel, first I'll serve up an excerpt of my original theatrical review of Panda, originally published on June 16.

Kung Fu Panda

Mark Osborne & John Stevenson

"...We begin with Po the overweight panda-- a typical underdog, kung fu worshipping or Daniel Laruso like Karate Kid (voiced by Jack Black), who, although tirelessly devoted to his hardworking father who runs a family noodle shop, dreams of someday joining the famous “Furious Five” warriors he fantasizes about in his room, which are comprised of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Knocked Up’s Seth Rogen), Viper (Kill Bill’s Lucy Liu), and Crane (Arrested Development’s David Cross). As Po sees it in his mind, he’s the missing Bruce Lee like link to rounding out the six with witty lines he creates such as dreaming he's telling those he’s saved that “There is no charge for awesomeness or attractiveness.” While his dad relates to having a goal, having aspired to run away from his responsibilities for the dangerous lure of making tofu, he tells his son Po the adage he’s resigned himself to which is that they’re noodle folk with broth running through their veins...

..."With a brisk running time of roughly ninety minutes, admirably not overstaying its welcome in a way that has become Pixar’s Achilles Heel in their last few offerings including the dully paced Cars, Panda offers a terrific action story in the mold of some of our best loved kung fu classics complete with several obstacles, a training montage, and seeking wisdom from eccentric elders, and seems to be the perfect introduction to children for the genre and one that, not only am I considerably glad one of my best friends told me to see but also one that I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase for my nearly five year old Star Wars obsessed nephew as soon as it’s released..."

Click Here to Read the Complete Review of Kung Fu Panda

Panda the DVD's Bonus Features

As witnessed with their recent release of Shrek the Halls, one of the things that DreamWorks excels at is filling their child-friendly DVDs with enough video game styled activities and easy to use special features and menus to make their DVDs tremendously appealing. While Shrek the Halls and Panda's counterpart, Furious Five are mostly tailored directly for youngsters, the crystal clear transfer of Kung Fu Panda from theatre to DVD is augmented by extras for all ages.

Providing a feature-length running commentary by the film's two directors as well as some excellent behind-the-scenes making-of-featurettes that will delight film lovers as we realize we can't even begin to fathom how much work it was to creat a humorous animated hybrid of a kung fu comedy to appeal to children and adults, we're given the DVD equivalent of a DreamWorks Animation Studio pass.

Meeting the chief technology officer who picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the directors to make Panda a no-holds-barred, exciting action movie to appeal to kung fu fans, we also encounter other members of the large creative teams from the effects and rigging areas, computer graphics specialists, a kung fu choreographer who works alongside other supervising animators to those whose role it was to focus purely on the character surfacing and effects to figure out just how to make an animated character jump twenty feet in the air and do a roundhouse kick.

Ultimately approaching the animation style of the characters themselves as though they were plush toys or as one team member jokes teddy bears who get into fights, there's also an amazing feature on the film's sound design headed up by an industry veteran who collaborated on King Kong, Transformers and Lord of the Rings. Watching the team try everything in an attempt to think outside the box from using a plunger on one man's forehead to mimic a possible sound that Po the Panda would make when he sloshes around, it's especially cool when the effects and behind-the-scenes work are shown side by side with the finished product as the group uses real world objects "to create a sonic tapestry."

And of course, since it is animation where every sound must be created, there's also a great featurette which gives us access to some footage of the cast recording sessions as the all-star talent discusses the challenges and joys of playing their characters from Jolie's desire that she was dying to be the tiger and feared Chan would get that part to some genuinely hysterical off-the-cuff remarks from Seth Rogen who Jack Black reveals was the ultimate improvisational artist of the group. And whether it's Dustin Hoffman joking that he refuses to be in a movie unless he gets to play a character who's endangered as he remarks he gets the "shifu kicked out of" him to David Cross admitting he would hang out with his alter-ego Crane in real life, it's especially revealing when Lucy Liu shares that the actions, movements, and facial expressions of each actors' performance in the studio were ultimately used in shaping each individual character onscreen.

Also featuring some great high-brow extra features wherein TV's Iron Chef host Alton Brown visits Mr. Chow's restaurant to discuss noodle making, along with Conservation International's call to Help Save Wild Pandas, or a tutorial on How to Use Chopsticks, there's added fun for kids involving DVD-Rom features, printables and web-links, trailers, the DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox I described in my Shrek the Halls review, plus a fun Cee-Lo "Kung Fu Fighting" music video, and an interactive feature to learn some basic kung fu in Master Shifu's Dragon Warrior Training Academy.

Secrets of the Furious Five DVD

Raman Hui

While it's easy to be skeptical when a twenty-four minute short film hits DVD as a tie-in to a blockbuster hit, especially when one realizes that we have a different director and few of the original voice actors involved, after only a few minutes of Furious Five, it's easy to cast those fears aside. High-quality and fun, Secrets of the Furious Five is structurally shaped like an excuse at a positive after-school special as Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) surprises Po (Jack Black) with the prospect of teaching an introduction to kung fu class filled with boisterous adorable bunnies. However, it becomes quickly engrossing as Po must reign in the eager youngsters by telling them that kung fu is not all about fighting.

By sharing the stories of his former idols and now allies, the legendary furious five from the main film, Po happily imparts lessons of patience, courage, confidence, discipline, and compassion with each flashback-driven, action-packed tale. Yet, still maintaining the fast pace and engrossing storytelling set forth with stunning animation, it provides a nice companion piece to the film as we realize that, as much as Po was an outsider when he was chosen to join Shifu, the furious five were also equally out of their depth as well.

While the DVD for the feature film is more focused on the technical aspects of the cinematic process, Furious Five is completely dedicated to entertaining its youngest fans. With some great interactive features including a Pandamonium Activity Kit (to coincide with the 2-DVD Package Set) that works in your DVD-Rom to games and a great artistic lesson that teaches kids to draw their favorite characters from the film, it's also filled with extra educational opportunities as you move into the "Land of the Panda" menu to discover more about the Chinese Zodiac, the animals from the film, and another kung fu lesson that parents will certainly want to supervise.

Also released in widescreen, along with the feature film to capture the theatrical aspect ratio, it's a great bonus for children and worth the investment for those of you interested enough in buying the original film to just bring home the two-pack to avoid an extra cost or second purchase down the road and by focusing on the positive, intellectual aspects of self-discipline and wisdom that coincide with kung fu, it makes a worthwhile double feature for children who may feel-- much like Po's unruly bunnies-- overly anxious to start trying to kick everything in sight.

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