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"Kung Fu Panda" Has Real Kick on DVD and Blu-ray

by on November 18, 2008

Get ready to feel the THUNDER!, along with the closing credits). In some ways, it’s a bit of a disappointment when the movie shifts to a more traditional 3-D CGI style. This disappointment doesn’t last long, though, since the CGI on display is beautiful, especially on the Blu-ray edition of the movie. We’re reaching a point when the technological leaps of a CGI movie aren’t as obvious to the untrained eye, as when we first got believable fur in Monsters Inc. or water effects in Finding Nemo. It’s entirely believable to hear that the bridge battle made animators blanch at the technical challenges it presented, but it’s to the animators’ credit that we’re way too caught up in the magic of the moment to really notice the technical breakthroughs. There are also a lot of much quieter, more subtle advances on display, especially in CGI character animation. Po wonderfully caricatures the subtle tics and mannerisms of Jack Black, thus communicating excitement, disappointment, or apprehension with ease. The animation can masterfully capture just the right emotional tone through the subtlest movements, from the twitch of an eyebrow on Master Tigress to a tiny head cock from Master Shifu.

That's why it's called the present. visiting “Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop” to learn how Chinese noodles are made. A music video of the “Kung Fu Fighting” cover used for the end credits, a public service announcement to save the pandas, and the collection of DVD games in the “Dragon Warrior Training Academy” round out the special features on the DVD.

The DVD can be purchased alone, but it is worthwhile to get the 2-disc version for the wonderful 24-minute “Secrets of the Furious Five” follow-up movie, which tells the origin stories of the Furious Five in the same 2-D animated style as the opening and closing credits of the original movie. This follow-up has the same heart and warmth of the original movie, even if it isn’t exactly subtle in it storytelling. Still, it’s an extremely enjoyable follow-up piece, and is easily worth the extra cost. This second disc also contains more bonus features, although none of them are terribly memorable. “Po’s Power Play” has more DVD games along with a “Learn to Draw” feature. The only “Learn to Draw” worth watching is the one for Po, since it is hosted by James Baxter, the director of the 2-D opening sequence. His comments on character design are definitely worth listening to and push his segment beyond the simple, mechanical instructions of the others. “Land of the Panda” collects four featurettes about Chinese culture (2 on kung fu, one on chopsticks, and one on the Chinese zodiac) and one dance tutorial, plus a quiz to decide which style of kung fu is best for you.

In addition to all the behind-the-scenes and educational bonus content, the Blu-ray gets a ton of exclusive content beyond whatever is offered through BD Live. The “Animator’s Corner” is a picture-in-picture bit that mixes the directors’ commentary track with extra comments and footage from the animators and actors. The other Blu-ray exclusive is a trivia track that is an almost complete waste of time, communicating little of value that isn’t covered by the commentary or the Animator’s Corner. All the bonus features are also in high-definition on the Blu-ray disc, and the fact that it’s all collected in one place adds a significant convenience factor. But for one omission, the Blu-ray is a no-brainer for anybody with the capability to play it.

Uh, no, I don't know why they left the new movie off, either.However, the DVD and Blu-ray release of Kung Fu Panda is marked by a number of odd decisions, some of which are purely of the moment and others of which are genuinely puzzling. For whatever reason, the movie was released on a Sunday rather than the traditional Tuesday. The only guess as to the unconventional release date was as a test to see how many weekend shoppers will pick it up early rather than wait until the next Saturday after release. More puzzling was the decision to load up the Blu-ray release with all the special features on the 2-disc DVD except “Secrets of the Furious Five.” At the moment, DreamWorks isn’t making the movie available as a standalone purchase, so leaving it out is essentially discouraging people from buying the Blu-ray disc. Even without considering the current tough economic climate, it is hard to justify a purchase of both the Blu-ray and the 2-disc DVD when all you really want is just the extra movie. Blu-ray owners can hope that “Secrets of the Furious Five” will show up some day as a BD Live featurette, or just go for the DVDs and live with an upconverted image. Considering the uphill battle that Blu-ray has had finding its way into homes, leaving out such a cool bonus is definitely not the best way to encourage adoption of the format.

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