Bit of a switch this week, as we've got a two-tiered review for you. Normally we just review the movie, but for this one we'll be discussing the theater as well, the new IMAX at the shiny new Chenal 9 multiplex out in Sprawlville. Both are, on the whole, not too bad.
The movie in question is “Kung Fu Panda,” the CGI Jack Black vehicle for chop-socky, fat jokes and pratfalls, and it works pretty well. It's the standard “outsider who dares to dream and sees those dreams fulfilled because he believes hard enough” fare that is the bread and butter of most animated films these days. It plays that theme as far as it can without getting too absurd (evidently believing in yourself gives you glowing punches), but hey, it's a kid's movie, and you're a grump if you don't check your disbelief at the door.
Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson streamline the usual formula a bit here: Normally our outsider hero is accompanied by a wisecracking, comic-relieving sidekick, but the titular panda is both hero and comic relief rolled into one. Hence the casting — Jack Black's stock-in-trade is the lovable moron who knows against all evidence to the contrary that he is capable of legendary feats, in this case becoming the prophesied Dragon Warrior who will save the valley from the evil Kung Fu Master. He does it well here, too, a very (for Black) subdued performance that works surprisingly well.
The combo of Black's comedy, off-the-chart high karate fight sequences and the stunning animation one expects from DreamWorks make for a very fun ride, so much fun that you won't really mind or even notice that there's not much story here. “Ratatouille” it ain't, but that's not what they're shooting for. They're serving up action/comedy with a moral that gives us an excuse to feel good about watching action/comedy, and the movie does well enough with that. Bottom line: Your kids (especially your boys) will adore this movie, and you'll like it almost well enough to not mind the next six months of your kid screaming HI-YAH and attempting a triple lendy off the divan.
The theater itself is pretty nice, if unassuming. I prefer it to the Rave mostly for the lack of grand mal-inducing lights and noise, and it's also new enough that the concession employees don't look like they're staging a re-enactment of the Bataan Death March. It's exactly the kind of place I prefer to watch movies, excepting of course those great old balconied relics that are the Platonic ideal of movie houses.
As for the IMAX theater, it's good sized. Not the largest IMAX theater I've ever seen, but big enough, and watching the animation digitally projected to that scale ... well, “impressive” is an understatement. I was counting Panda hairs.
But then there's the screen itself: one inexplicably blotchy mess. To look at it, you'd think it had been up there for at least five years, or was recycled from an older theater. This leaps at your eyeballs during Panda close-ups, when that giant field of white shows off all those blemishes like so much untreated eczema. I'm not sure what happened there, but I hope there's a fix forthcoming. Regardless, it's sure to be a draw for all you West Little Rockers, especially during this $5-gas summer.