Now that the Presidential Election is over — which is what I was previously using as an excuse — it is time to get back on the ball with my own column, The Blu-ray Patrol. And in order to do that, we are going to be rocking a new format for the column, as well as moving it to a permanent home on Mondays. Every single week I will feature a few Blu-ray titles that are being released that week or have already been released, breaking them down with a simple set of criteria. But before we get to this Monday’s column, we have two special editions of the Blu-ray Patrol, one that features a Kung Fu-fighting Panda and another that features everyone’s favorite suave spy. We begin today with a look at Kung Fu Panda’s Blu-ray release.
Kung Fu Panda (2008) Rated G – On Blu-ray November 9th
I’ve said it before and I am not afraid to say it again, Kung Fu Panda is one of my favorite films of the year. And even though I will certainly be chastised by die hard Pixar loyalists, I am not afraid to say that Kung Fu Panda made a bigger impact on my yearly top ten list than WALL-E. Sure, WALL-E was another fantastic Pixar film, but we’ve come to expect that — Kung Fu Panda came from Dreamworks Animation, the studio who seemed content with rehashing the Shrek universe over and over just to earn a buck. As well, there are plenty of Jack Black naysayers out there as well, who would criticize him for just falling in line with every other comedic actor. Everyone wants their own animated franchise, complete with merchandising deals and three-picture contracts, but it isn’t every day that a comedian can get involved with a project that comes out as well-written, well-animated and fun as Kung Fu Panda.
We begin with the sensory aspect of Blu-ray watching, something that should be constant, given the high quality output of the format. But lets face it, not every movie benefits from the transfer to HD video and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. Take, for example, my review of Baby Mama on Blu-ray — that movie gained very little on HD. But in the case of Kung Fu Panda — as is true with so many animated films — we have a film that looks and sounds amazing. Almost as good as it did in IMAX. Then again, most of us don’t have 100-ft. televisions in our homes, so the experience isn’t exactly the same. But either way, the transfer is great on this title, allowing the vibrant colors and unbelievable sharp animation to come through in glorious 1080p. If I had a choice — and I do — I wouldn’t choose to watch a film like this any other way. In the realm of high definition home entertainment, this is the sort of film that you buy to see what your system can do.
Next up is a look at the supplemental features included on this release. Kung Fu Panda features a ton of special features, most of which are geared toward the little ones in your home. And rightfully so, as kids are really the target demographic for this movie. But there is enough for big kids like me as well, including five full-length HD featurettes. As well, there are are some cool little interactive features such as ‘Dragon Warrior Training Academy’ and ‘What Fighting Style Are You?’ Personally, I tried to get through the Dragon Warrior Academy, but failed miserably. But while I didn’t have much luck with the mini-games, I have a feeling that your 10-year old will be able to figure it out.
One of the coolest and most interesting features is the ‘Land of the Panda’ submenu, which is filled with all sorts of interesting cultural featurettes. There is one with Iron Chef Alton Brown showing us how noodles are made, a feature that left me educated and hungry. Also, there is a kid-friendly feature on how to use chopsticks, which was also educational. One thing I learned was that chopsticks are for pinching, not stabbing — who knew?
While all of the above-listed features are fun, they can also be found on the standard DVD release. What interests me is some added value — what does the Blu-ray release offer that you can’t find in standard definition. And with Kung Fu Panda we don’t get a ton of extras, but what we do get is really awesome. In particular there is a feature called ‘The Animator’s Corner’, which runs along with the film in picture and picture showing off storyboards, little behind the scenes featurettes and interviews while you watch the movie. As a fan of animation, I always love to see how the animators created certain scenes — and with Kung Fu Panda, there are a few amazing sequences — most notably the first few minutes — that are really unique. Seeing how those were made was a real treat, definitely worth a second run through the film. As well, this release promises some BD-Live features, none of which were live when I sat down to review it. But as these things go, the BD-Live features are usually good for another hour of fun.
The Final Verdict:
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this review should stand as a glowing recommendation. Kung Fu Panda is one of those awesome animated films that should be seen in the highest quality possible — and that highest quality can only be obtained with Blu-ray. As well, there are a few great Blu-ray exclusive special features that make this one more than worth the jump in price.