Visit the Movie Wave Store | Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer | Contact me
KUNG FU PANDA
Zimmer and Powell reunite for a Chinese
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * *
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 DreamWorks Adnimation; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
The latest cute animal to get the starring role in a big-screen animation is the symbol of China, the panda, in the Dreamworks animation Kung Fu Panda. Aside from the ludicrous title it's meant to be that studio's best film in a while (not that they have very high standards to live up to), but for film music fans the most interest comes from the fact that its music is a collaboration between Hans Zimmer and his erstwhile student John Powell, reunited for the first time in a long time. Of course they worked together before when Powell was at Zimmer's production facility, but this time the collaboration comes between two equals, not from one doing what the other one tells him to. It seems a curious, backward step for Powell who had finally escaped from those shackles and exerted his own voice on the film music world, but I guess the two fanced the chance to work together again.
Absolutely the best thing about the score is the pre-release promotional material. The composers spoke of the film as if it were an earnest attempt to educate Western audiences about the great cultural history of one of the world's most interesting countries; and I was particularly amused that "this gives us chance to put some ideas together that we've been working on for years, waiting for the right project" - the thought of them sitting down together writing silly littlevaguely oriental style ditties over a period of years, waiting for a film to come along and put them in, seems inherently amusing. Also amusing is the fact that they went all the way to Beijing to record the score with the China National Symphony Orchestra and then had them play something that's half-way Pirates of the Caribbean and half-way Hong Kong Phooey (and no way Chinese); and that, perhaps not surprisingly, two composers, an "additional composer" and five orchestrators have somehow yet again conspired to present music orchestrated in such a banal fashion that a 100-piece symphony orchestra sounds like a 12-year-old boy in his bedroom with a cheap keyboard.
But we already know that about any score with Zimmer's name on it - what sets the good ones apart is usually the tunes on offer, and whether the sense of fun can override whatever artistic deficiencies may be perceived. And it does - I've always found Zimmer to be at his best when he doesn't make any particular attempt to be serious, and just has a bit of fun - and that's the case here. Powell has turned into a pretty distinctive composer, and you can certainly here his influence (particularly the main theme), but this is very much "A Hans Zimmer Score" in the way that no matter who the actors are, who the director is, who the hundreds of technical staff are, you can always instantly spot "A Jerry Bruckheimer Film".
Surprisingly, it is the gentler music which is the highlight here. Most of the action music is just the typical generic Remote Control stuff (albeit with some Chinese percussion thrown in - and it's undeniably enjoyable, the good kind of generic Remote Control stuff - not the Iron Man alternative) - the softer passages feature some surprisingly tender, beautiful music. The erhu theme heard towards the end of the opening cue, "Hero", is one of those beauties - it's heard frequently through the score, but never outstays its welcome. Its best presentation is in the finale, "Oogway Ascends", with tender orchestral accompaniment to the erhu. The comic midsection of "Impersonating Shifu" is also charming and most enjoyable.
Some of the action music does leave a little more impression - "The Bridge" is a great piece of dramatic action music, and later "Dragon Warrior Rises" is full of a spirit of heroism and adventure. "Sacred Pool of Tears" mixes everything together - sweeping themes mixed in with both dramatic and more lighthearted action music - and even some heavenly choral swooning. It's pretty much a ten-minute summary of the whole score. Kung Fu Panda is good fun - a little silly at times, perhaps - but undemanding and enjoyable. Both composers are well and truly within their comfort zones but sometimes that doesn't particularly matter, and this is one of those times. The dominant voice is Zimmer's, but this is an album which should please fans of both composers.