Judge Dan Mancini looks a lot bigger than his action figure.
The next Kung Fu Panda adventure!
Secrets of the Furious Five is a 25-minute, straight-to-DVD short film follow-up to DreamWorks' computer-animated, action-comedy hit, Kung Fu Panda. It was originally released as a supplement to the Kung Fu Panda DVD in a specially priced two-disc bundle (folks who bought Kung Fu Panda on Blu-ray were out of luck). Now, Secrets of the Furious Five is available as a stand-alone disc.
In the short film, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, The Tale of Despereaux) gives Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black, Be King Rewind) his greatest challenge yet: teaching an Introduction to Kung Fu class to a group of pint-sized bunnies. The cotton-tailed tykes are eager to learn how to punch and kick, but the Kung Fu Panda tells them five different stories that reveal the true greatness of the legendary Kung Fu masters who most inspired him: the Furious Five. Captured by a band of vicious crocodiles, the quick-striking Mantis learns the value of patience. When her father is defeated by a gorilla bandit, the fangless young Viper discovers courage. Working as a janitor at a Kung Fu academy, Crane (David Cross, Arrested Development) faces a deadly obstacle course and learns confidence. A young Tigress is an incorrigible brat who terrorizes the orphanage where she lives until Master Shifu arrives to teach her discipline and self-control. Monkey is a mischievous prankster hated by the members of his village until the wise old turtle Oogway (Randall Duk Kim, The Matrix Reloaded) teaches him the value of compassion.
Secrets of the Furious Five's greatest asset is its top-notch animation. The framing sequences with Po and Shifu are rendered in 3D computer animation of the same high quality as Kung Fu Panda. Better still, the brief vignettes about each of the Furious Five are presented in the same stylish 2D animation seen in Kung Fu Panda's action-packed opening title sequence. Unfortunately, the stories themselves are both predictable (at least for adults) and too brief to fully engage the viewer. They're mainly carried along by the strength of Jack Black's enthusiastic narration. While it's laudable that the show's purpose is to entertain kids while teaching values like patience and compassion, the entire enterprise has something of the feel of an afterthought—or a cynical cash grab. Black, Hoffman, and David Cross reprise their roles from the feature film, but Seth Rogen and Jackie Chan are noticeably absent as Mantis and Monkey. As Chief Justice Michael Stailey noted in his review of the Kung Fu Panda DVD, the voice recordings of Black and Hoffman sit in a flat ambient space as though the dialogue were recorded quickly, cheaply, and on the fly. The quality of the animation isn't able to overcome the lazy storytelling and cheapo audio recording. While it is pretty to look at, Secrets of the Furious Five comes off as a lazy and hurried imitation of Kung Fu Panda.
The high quality animation comes across well in a 1.78:1 transfer that is enhanced for 16:9 displays. Detail is as sharp as the source allows. Lighting is subtle and beautiful. Character movement is fluid and impressive. Because the short film began as a pure digital source, there isn't an artifact or other flaw to be found. The Dolby 5.1 audio track does no harm to the flawed audio source. I don't want to overstate the weakness of the voice recordings—dialogue is clean and consistently discernible—but the slightly cramped dynamic range and hollow ambient space is noticeably inferior to Kung Fu Panda's audio mix.
Some kid-friendly supplements are divided into two sections on the disc. The first section, Po's Power Play, offers some activities and games. "Learn to Draw" offers step-by-step instructions for drawing Tigress, Mantis, Crane, Monkey, Viper, and Po. "Dumpling Shuffle" is a remote control-based shell game in which kids try to follow a dumpling shuffled beneath three bowls. "Pandamonium Activity Kit" is a DVD-ROM extra that contains a sound machine, printable activities, and video game demos for Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
The second section is called The Land of the Panda. It contains some featurettes and games related to the animals and Kung Fu styles seen in Secrets of the Furious Five. In "Learn the Panda Dance" (4:28) hip-hop choreographer Hi-Hat walks kids through dance moves set to Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting." "Do You Kung Fu?" demonstrates simple poses and moves in the Mantis, Viper, Tiger, Crane, Monkey, and (fictional) Panda styles of Kung Fu. "Inside the Chinese Zodiac"allows kids to select the year they were born in order to see which animal of the Chinese zodiac they are. "Animals of Kung Fu Panda" (6:16) is a brief featurette that provides a glimpse of the animal fighting styles that were used as inspiration for the Furious Five in Kung Fu Panda. "What Fighting Style Are You?"allows kids to answer a series of questions in order to determine which of the Furious Five's fighting styles best suits them.
While Secrets of the Furious Five is a decent little animated short, the 15 dollar asking price is a rip-off (10 bucks would be pushing it; five would be reasonable). Despite some fine animation and a kid-friendly story, the short's 25-minute running time and collection of forgettable extras make it a decent supplement to Kung Fu Panda but a lousy stand-alone release.
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