As disappointing as Shrek the Halls was, DreamWorks did right by this one. They loaded it up with extras and a specially crafted 30-minute short "sequel," Secrets of the Furious Five, which is only available if you buy it paired with the movie in the cleverly named Pandamonium Double Pack. I was skeptical at first, but I was ultimately totally charmed by it, despite my best efforts to be critical.
If you haven't seen the movie (and if you don't have kids under 10, you probably haven't) Jack Black is a panda who aspires to be a Kung Fu master, but works at his family-run noodle shop. Until one day he's plucked from obscurity and named as the Dragon Warrior, gets some intense training, is subject to a lot of ridicule and fights a big bad guy. Sort of predictable, but it has a strong voice cast, and is really kinda funny, even though its brand of humor lacks the subtlety of a Pixar film.Kung Fu Panda
The main disc is loaded with extras, starting with the Filmmaker Commentary. It's the two directors, Mark Osbourne and John Stevenson. You may never have heard of them, and normally I hate listening to commentaries that aren't from actors or people I know, but this was pretty interesting. They talked with reverence about the colors, and the 2-D animation that they used at the beginning of the film, and they even lament visual jokes that don't work. Which you'd normally write off, but after spending four years of your life working on a project, if people don't get a chuckle at the fact that you showed Po the Panda's dad in shadow looking like a panda before pulling back to reveal him to be a goose, you'd probably be a little sad, too.
And my wish for some talk from the stars was granted in the "Meet the Cast" featurette, where all the voice actors discuss how they got involved with the film and how they got into character. This is amazing not only because you see Angelina Jolie unleashing her inner Tigress, but also because there is nothing more awesome than seeing Ian McShane growling into the microphone. It's like Swearengen has returned. Oh, and there's a moment where he's serious and says that "bad guys always get the best lines," and then he smirks. I adore him. There's also lots of time spent with Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan and some of the other supporting cast. It's pretty decent, and you don't have to watch the entire film again, like you would have if they'd done it as a commentary. I appreciate that.
Then there's a lot of techie stuff, for you animation junkies out there. "Pushing the Boundaries" focuses on how they did the clothes and fighting scenes, but mostly is a lot of the directors saying they came up with wild ideas and dumped them on the animators so they could figure them out. And "Sound Design" shows how they made the noises.
There's some fun stuff for the kiddies, unless they, like me, find Cee-Lo kind of terrifying. He does a video of his "Kung Fu Fighting" remake, which features a dance sequence (this information will be important later), a little girl teaching you how to use chopsticks, the Dreamworks Jukebox, the Dragon Warrior Training Academy (which is essentially a video game) and "Conservation International," which has Jack Black encouraging the kiddies to help save the pandas and explaining global warming. Not as preachy or annoying as it sounds, thankfully. And then the best part, which is Food Network guru Alton Brown at Mr. Chow's restaurant (he says he couldn't get a reservation at Mr. Ping's) watching as the head noodle chef shows how the food is so carefully crafted. Fascinating.
Secrets of the Furious Five
This short is about 30 minutes long and has Po telling the most precious little bunnies to do Kung Fu, but first gives them the backstory on how the much-hyped Furious Five learned the true meaning of the martial art. Features great 2D and 3D animation and those little bunnies bopping each other is just too cute for words.
After that, they've put on the "extra" extras. Stuff that maybe wasn't enough fun to make it to the main disc. So there is "Learn the Panda Dance," where HiHat instructs you on how to do the Cee-Lo dance from the aforementioned "Kung Fu Fighting" video. Kung Fu lessons, in all the different styles. Determining which fighting style you are, the history of the animals of Kung Fu Panda and a Chinese Zodiac calendar that helps you figure out your animal and what that means.
There's a learn-to-draw game, where you can pick from any of the characters. The animators are the teachers, and they seem remarkably comfortable with their instructions. There's the "Dumpling Shuffle," which is three-card monte with dumplings. And then a host of game demos which I refuse to write about as they are commercials, and not actually an extra feature.