In 2008, the world saw the release of Kung Fu Panda, an animated film from DreamWorks which at that point was the only serious competition to Disney Animation Studios, and Pixar. Sadly, DreamWorks has gone the way of the western lately, and the company seems to be in a transitional period where the production of new films has halted almost completely. However, some of the franchises that saw the light of day under DreamWorks care are still going strong.
One of the franchises that haven’t really faded away is Kung Fu Panda. More than any other of DreamWorks intellectual properties, the tale of Po, a Panda that knows Kung Fu has gone beyond the movie to transform itself into a multimedia franchise, with comics, video games, and TV shows being released constantly. It is no surprise, as the world the franchise has created is rich with places, and it is the perfect playground to tell new stories.
A new Kung Panda TV series arrives this week on Netflix. The series bears the subtitle, The Dragon Knight, and it is meant to take the world of Po and his friends to new places. The show is more Kung Fu Panda, the jokes, the characters, and the storytelling are all here, and this first season really set-ups the story in such a way that this could be the biggest Po adventure to date. There is a wonderful sense of accomplishment that can be felt in the show.
The series stars Jack Black, once again as the lovable Po, the Dragon Master, protector of China. James Hong also comes back in the role of Mr. Ping, Po’s father, and one of the best characters to ever grace 3D western animation. They are joined by newcomer Rita Orta, in the role of Blade, a wandering knight coming from England. Blade is also a bear, and she is on a mission to capture some very dangerous criminals. When her path crosses up with Po’s the two forms a team to save the day.
One thing that will always give legitimacy to this kind of show is that both, Jack Black, and James Hong are so adamant about continuing voicing these characters. Many “big stars” end up refusing to go into voice acting their characters once they go to Television, or streaming. But these two actors have made these characters their own, and it is really wonderful to hear their voices coming out of the character’s mouths. Even when the animation isn’t on the level of films, hearing those voices, really helps with the continuity.
On a technical level, The Dragon Knight is a clear step down from the beautiful quality animation we see in the movies. You could say that even the first film, which was released way back in 2008 looks better than this, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The shaders are a lot less impressive, and the quality of the renders on the character models has a lot less detail. This is no Arcane, for sure. And yet, it is also clear that DreamWorks is trying to make the best with its resources. There have been other 3D shows that look quite awful.
The Dragon Knight isn’t one of those shows. It might not be movie level animation, but it is better than half of 3D animated shows out there.
In terms of plotting, The Dragon Knight really offers quite an adventure. This time the stakes go beyond the realm of China, and they start involving people from other realms out in the world. On this occasion, the inclusion of Blade as a new character opens up the possibility of more English characters coming to China. It is really curious and interesting to see how the series executes this concept moving forward.
The characters are great. Jack Black transmits unhinged energy every time he opens his mouth. Po is still the loveable but capable hero, that knows and is capable of a lot more than he thinks he is. Po’s jokes are just hilarious, and they are innocent enough that kids can laugh at them with no major concern. Parents will also be delighted to discover that the mystery and the action sequences are gripping enough for them to watch along with their kids.
This first season of The Dragon Knight, clearly is all about the setup. Blade is introduced as the new character in the block and her participation is welcomed. She makes the straight lady next to Po’s outrageous personality. However, she is not boring, although she is quite serious. Her backstory is quite interesting, and she has this royalness and elegance to her that make her quite a hero. It is also great to see Mr. Ping having a more active role. He is just delightful.
The Dragon Knight is an excellent adventure. It mixes the genre of kung fu movies with a lot of fantasy elements that kids will love, and parents can also enjoy as the characters are well written, and the antics are quite funny for all ages. Season two of the tale doesn’t have a released date, but we cannot wait to see what happens here.