Grade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2008, 92 min., Color
Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action
Dreamworks/Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: A- (extra disc)
Includes: DVD, Bonus Disc, Digital HD
Amazon link

Twentieth Century Fox decided to rerelease Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 to coincide with the January 29 theatrical debut of the much-anticipated Kung Fu Panda 3. And when I say “much anticipated” I’m not talking about anyone who lives in my house.

It took two weeks before I could even convince my two teens to finally watch the original Kung Fu Panda with me. I have to admit, I don’t blame them. The previews made it look like an all-action/no-cleverness Saturday morning formula cartoon. Maybe the studio was playing to the lowest common denominator, but if the trailer had included a couple of the many clever lines and character-driven moments instead of all that wax-on wax-off stuff, we would have watched it LONG ago.

Though critics who’ve seen the second sequel at early screenings have said #3 is the best of the bunch, the original film turns out to be a tough one to beat. In it, a Panda named Po (voiced by Jack Black) could be the alter ego for any number of slacker kids who aren’t yet ready to face up to their potential, though that potential is all but proven by a dream for the future that they have. In Po’s case, he wants to be a Kung Fu master, like Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Master Viper (Lucy Liu), Master Monkey (Jackie Chan), Master Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Master Crane (David Cross)—though he was “born” into a family business, a noodle shop—and I use air quotes because in Kung Fu Panda his dad (James Hong) is a goose. Is Po adopted? Is this cross-species family a writer’s joke? Could be, because it made us smile. And Po turns out to be the perfect hero for all the kids who have been told they are too short, too tall, too chubby, too uncoordinated, or too dumb to reach goals so lofty you’d have to call them dreams.

KungfupandascreenPo’s dad expects him to carry on the family business—a familiar trope—but destiny intervenes. When Po devises a fireworks way of launching himself into the courtyard of the temple so he can witness the coronation of the Dragon Warrior, a chosen one who can defeat the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane), he launches himself right into the middle of the affair. And a tortoise grand master (Randall Duk kim) anoints him the chosen one. Hey, if he falls out of the sky, he must be right? Because there are no accidents.

Well, except for a visit to check on the security of the prison where the villain is kept immobilized, which goes horribly wrong. With an escape impending and doom just around the corner, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has no time at all to train Po to become the Kung Fu master he always aspired to, and the Dragon Warrior he reluctantly becomes. Star Wars fans will also recognize a familiar pupil-gone-to-the-dark-side storyline.

But the film’s familiar action-oriented plot doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of this film, which is brought to life by sharp dialogue, terrific animation, and voice talents who can take that dialogue and use it to make their characters distinctive and sympathetic—and none more so than Po.

This reissue comes with a bonus disc of special features. The main ones are three short Kung Fu Panda “Secrets” films: “Secrets of the Furious Five” (2008, 25 min.), “Secrets of the Masters” (2011, 23 min.), and “Secrets of the Scroll” (2013, 23 min.). These direct-to-video shorts capitalized on the popularity of the full-length features, and while they’ll entertain young ones, the animation isn’t up to the standards of the feature films—which are really quite impressive in their animation and set, character, and background designs. The other bonus features feel like filler: two mash-ups (blooper collections), a martial arts awesomeness music video, and a Kung Fu Panda 3 sneak peek, for those who haven’t gotten to the theater yet.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: Some moments of fighting-related peril
Adult situations: n/a
Takeaway: Kung Fu Panda ought to have plenty of replay potential because it’s complex enough to satisfy with every new viewing.