Kung Fu Panda appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Expect very few problems during this strong transfer.
Sharpness looked terrific. Only a hint of softness emerged here, as the movie almost always seemed concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues connected to shimmering or jagged edges, and just a smidgen of edge enhancement materialized. Of course, the computer-animated affair came without source flaws, so don’t worry about any specks, marks or other defects.
With its exotic settings and characters, Panda featured a broad palette that looked great. The movie’s colors leapt off the screen, as they offered excellent vivacity and impact. Blacks were concise and dark, and shadows seemed clear and smooth. Overall, Panda provided terrific visuals.
Though not as memorable, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Kung Fu Panda seemed positive. In the forward domain, the music showed fine stereo imaging, while effects blended together neatly and smoothly. Those elements moved from speaker to speaker cleanly as the track created a solid sense of atmosphere. It even included a fair amount of dialogue from the side speakers, which offered a good impression of breadth.
Surround usage generally favored reinforcement of music and effects, but the rears came to life nicely during a number of scenes. Various battles showed effective use of the surrounds, as did the other action sequences. The mix really helped bring the material to life.
Audio quality consistently seemed positive. Dialogue was natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was rich and warm throughout the movie, with good clarity as well. Bass stomped to life nicely during the louder scenes and effects always seemed clear and accurate, with no signs of distortion or other concerns. This was a nicely engaging soundtrack that earned a solid “B+“.
With that we head to the set’s extras. On DVD One, we begin with an audio commentary from directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They look at animation and visual design, color schemes and cinematography, cast and performances, story and characters, action choreography, and some other production specifics.
A lot of commentaries for animated films tend to be dry and technical, but that problem doesn’t happen here. Oh, we get lots of nuts and bolts information, but Stevenson and Osborne keep the track moving well and they balance the technical bits with more creative elements. They provide a consistently lively and interesting discussion.
Three featurettes follow. Meet the Cast goes for 13 minutes, 14 seconds as it presents remarks from Osborne, Stevenson, and actors Jack Black, Dustin Hofffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Ian McShane, Michael Clarke Duncan, Randall Duk Kim, and James Hong. We get some notes about cast, characters and performances. Don’t expect much depth here, as the comments remain fluffy and insubstantial. I always enjoy shots of the actors at work, though, so that side of things satisfies.
Pushing the Boundaries goes for seven minutes, four seconds and features Osborne, Stevenson, chief technology officer Ed Leonard, artistic supervision: character technical direction Nathan Loofbourrow, supervising animator/kung fu choreographer Rodolphe Guenoden, production designer Raymond Zibach, artistic supervision: surfacing Wes Burian, visual effects supervisor Markus Manninen, DreamWorks animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and artistic supervision: character effects/crowds and effects Alex Parkinson. We learn a bit about the computer animation here.
But only a bit, as we don’t get much detail. Instead, the participants mostly tell us how amazing and complex the project is. I like the shows of the raw visuals, but we just don’t learn a whole lot from this featurette.
Next we find the three-minute and 52-second Sound Design with remarks from Osborne, Stevenson, and supervising sound editors/sound designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn. This show tells us about some of the film’s auditory choices. As usual, the behind the scenes elements work best, as we get some fun shots of the sound crew at work. Not too many details emerge, though.
A Music Video pops up for Cee-Lo’s cover of “Kung Fu Fighting”. As usual, we get some movie clips, but the video’s usually more creative than that – though not tremendously so. We see some kung fu-influenced choreography and a cameo from Jack Black. It’s a mediocre video, but at least it’s better than the usual slop.
After this we locate a few educational pieces. Mr. Ping’s Noodle House runs four minutes, 40 seconds and provides narration from Iron Chef America host Alton Brown. We watch the creation of Chinese noodles in this short featurette. It’s mildly interesting at best.
How to Use Chopsticks goes for two minutes, 55 seconds and acts as a tutorial. It teaches us the correct way to use chopsticks. Y’know, spoon/fork/knife have served me well over the years, so I think I’ll stick with them. Besides, there’s nothing more pretentious than white folks using chopsticks. I don’t know how valuable this lesson will be, but if you want to join the chopstickers, give it a look.
For some real-life info, we head to the one-minute and 57-second Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas. Hosted by Jack Black, it tells us what we can do to contribute to the preservation of pandas. It’s propaganda, but it’s painless propaganda.
Next we find Dragon Warrior Training Academy. This offers a series of games to see if you’re worthy of the “Dragon Warrior” title. As is usually the case with DVD games, these are more annoying than fun.
Printables and Weblinks offers various kid-oriented activities. These require computer access, so pop the disc into your DVD-ROM drive to give it a go.
Finally, we get a DreamWorks Animation Jukebox. This lets you see/hear songs from Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Bee Movie, Flushed Away, Over the Hedge, Madagascar and Shark Tale. All of this feels like glorified advertising to me.
A few ads open DVD One. We get clips for Monsters Vs. Aliens, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and Secrets of the Furious Five. These also appear in the disc’s Trailers area. No ad for Panda appears here.
On DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a direct-to-video feature called Secrets of the Furious Five. In this 24-minute and 34-second program, Po teaches a kung fu class made up of young bunnies. They just want to learn how to kick butt, but he tells them they need to learn qualities such as patience and confidence. Po illuminates them via anecdotes about all the members of the Furious Five.
Secrets loses a few points because many of the original actors fail to reappear. Jack Black returns as Po, and we also find Dustin Hoffman, David Cross and Randall Duk Kim in their movie roles. Of the main cast, this means we lose Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen. I suppose the film gets away with the absence of Jolie, Chan and Liu since it includes “young” versions of their characters. I think the original actors still could’ve done those parts, but the absence of Rogen seems more problematic. I suppose he was too busy making one of the other 827 movies he has coming out this year.
Cast issues aside, does Secrets entertain? Yeah, it provides a decent diversion. For the shots of Po in the current time, Secrets goes with the same 3D animation in the film, while the flashback anecdotes offer work with the same cel appearance found in the feature film’s prologue. This is a good technique to give the tale a distinctive appearance.
As for the stories themselves, them work fairly well. They’re pretty basic lessons for kids, but they get creative twists much of the time, and they come with some funny bits. Secrets doesn’t dazzle, but it entertains.
The extras on DVD Two split into two subheadings. Under “Po’s Power Play”, we find three elements. Learn to Draw presents step-by-step tutorials to teach you how to sketch Tigress, Mantis, Po, Crane, Monkey and/or Viper. A combination of narration and visuals gives viewers the necessary methods. It’s a fun way for kids to learn some art techniques.
Next comes a game called Dumpling Shuffle. This follows the “Three-Card Monty” routine, as you have to visually track a dumpling hidden under a bowl. It may provide a minor diversion for kids.
To end “Power Play”, we get Pandamonium Activity Kit. This simply lists some DVD-ROM activities that can be accessed in a computer.
Over in “Land of the Panda”, we find five components. Learn the Panda Dance goes for four minutes, 26 seconds as “our girl Hihat” teaches us how to do the steps. Like everything else, it’s meant for kids, and they may like it. I’m more astounded that a woman willingly dubs herself “Hihat”.
Do You Kung Fu? opens with a 43-second intro that tells us what to expect from the program. From there we can learn the fighting poses used by the movie’s six main characters. Kids will probably enjoy this more than “Panda Dance”, especially since “Fu” comes with a disclaimer; it essentially warns kids not to assault others. Yeah, good luck with that, DreamWorks lawyers!
Next we find Inside the Chinese Zodiac. It allows you to look up the animal that ruled your birth year. Year of the Sheep right here, baby! The feature goes back to 1924, which seems like discrimination against all the 85-year-old-and-ups watching the DVD. And what’s with the inclusion of the years 2009 through 2019 here? Anyway, this is a fun little lesson in the Chinese zodiac.
For more info on the film’s influences, we go to Animals of Kung Fu Panda. The six-minute and 15-second featurette provides some basics about how real-life animals influenced the various kung fu fighting styles. Though pretty basic, it gives us a decent look at these background notes.
Finally, What Fighting Style Are You? gives us a quiz to determine which animal best matches you. It runs through a few multiple-choice questions and then tells you your connection. Like the other parts of the DVD, it’s insubstantial but enjoyable.
That statement generally applies to Kung Fu Panda itself. While not a classic piece of animation, it provides decent entertainment. I’ve certainly seen less amusing films; that may not be a great endorsement, but it beats a more negative assessment. The DVD presents excellent visuals, very good audio, and a roster of extras highlighted by a terrific commentary and a fun direct-to-video sequel. Panda offers fairly nice family programming.