If you thought Po the panda’s adventures ended with Kung Fu Panda you were wrong. Now a full kung fu master, Po has to face even bigger challenges - like training a group of youngling bunnies and dealing with a mediocre direct to DVD continuation of his story.
Secrets of the Furious Five finds us rejoining Po after his battle with Tai Long. Here he’s put in charge of training a new class of kung fu students, made up of the bunnies who were so cute in the first movie. Seeing the students bent on learning how to fight, Po instead teaches them about the character traits that are so important in kung fu - confidence, patience, courage, and more.
Each of these lessons comes from telling the students about the early days of the famed “furious five” (I guess they didn’t get a title change after Po became the Dragon Warrior, eh?). It turns out that Tigress, Mantis, Crane, Viper, and Monkey weren’t such perfect kung fu masters all along, and they’ve had to learn important lessons and overcome their own shortcomings.
Clocking in at only 24 minutes, Secrets of the Furious Five really shouldn’t be on its own DVD. Really this is just a short extension of the original movie, much like we’ve been seeing from Pixar on their DVD releases for a while now. Packaging it separately makes it look like more than it is, but this really is just more of a bonus feature than a separate product, which is probably why it’s being released the way it is (see below for more grumbling about that).
My biggest complaint about Secrets is the reduced quality level. The opening of the movie is rendered with the same quality and impressive detail as the original movie, but as Po shares the stories of the Furious Five, the animation changes into a flat, 2D animation style, similar to what was used for Po’s dream at the beginning of the original movie. Since most of the movie is done in that flat animation style, this isn’t anywhere near as impressive as Kung Fu Panda.
Along with the reduced quality in the animation, the vocal talent is also reduced for Secrets. Half the original cast, including Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, and Seth Rogen, don’t return for this short sequel, resulting in a disappointing separation from the original film. Of course, the story does attempt to make up for these vocal differences by giving us younger versions of some of the characters, but it’s still disappointing.
Ultimately, Secrets of the Furious Five comes down to its story, which is made up of five different shorts that share the idea that Po wasn’t so different from the Furious Five in the first place. Each of the warriors had something they had to overcome, or some lesson to learn on their way to becoming a master. Of course, taking that into consideration, you’d think they’d be more understanding of the Panda when he was first getting his kung fu chops, but I don’t think we’re supposed to think about that.
Instead, Secrets of the Furious Five offers a more clear cut moral of what we were supposed to learn from Kung Fu Panda. Kung fu isn’t just about fighting; it’s about responsibility, and building character. I like the message here, I just wish it was presented in a more attractive package, especially when compared to the movie this short comes from, and ultimately just capitalizes on without really adding anything new to Po’s story.
In the interest of full disclosure, Secrets of the Furious Five probably shouldn’t be its own DVD review. The short movie can only be picked up in the “Pandamonium Double Pack” along with the DVD version of Kung Fu Panda. That’s actually my first complaint about this release. There’s no Blu-ray version of Secrets of the Furious Five and it’s not packaged with the Blu-ray release, which means picking up the higher definition version of the movie will exclude you from the material on this disc. It’s no big loss, since most of the content isn’t impressive, but the completists out there will be disappointed to hear they have to sacrifice content or quality in order to have everything.
I will say I like the packaging to Secrets of the Furious Five, which lines up nicely next to Kung Fu Panda to expand on the images both on the front and back. The problem is this is just a novelty thing, and it’s useless once you remove the DVDs from their shrink wrap, because who stores DVDs face front in their collection? What would have been really nice is if the spines lined up with some sort of image like the fronts and backs do. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and the complementary packaging disappears as soon as the discs are stored in the typical library.
Even though Secrets of the Furious Five is really only a bonus short in itself, the DVD includes even more bonus material for Kung Fu Panda and Secrets, although most of it is pretty generic content that’s not specific to either movie. The bonus material is divided into two categories on the disc: “Po’s Power Play” and “Land of the Panda.”
Po’s Power Play carries on the kid-friendly approach of Kung Fu Panda’s release with lots of games and a few activities. The “Dumpling Shuffle” game is a vast improvement over the other set-top games Kung Fu Panda brought, although it’s over quickly. You can also learn to draw the characters of Kung Fu Panda in separate tutorials, and there is even more DVD-ROM content on this disc for more activities.
The other section, Land of the Panda, is more about Chinese culture and kung fu than either of the movies. Inside you can learn to do the “Panda Dance” (no thank you), determine what sign in the Chinese zodiac you belong to, and look at the different fighting styles of kung fu. Once you know the different characters in Kung Fu Panda are named after different fighting styles (and what those styles involve), you will look at the movie slightly different, because the animators really took the focus of each style into account when they choreographed Kung Fu Panda’s fights.
If Secrets of the Furious Five was an individual release I would be incredibly disappointed in it. I can’t say it’s worth shelling out a few extra dollars to pick up as an extra for Kung Fu Panda, although that’s not really a concern if you’re on the Blu-ray side of things anyway. While the story of the movie short is worthwhile, I think I liked it more when it was in the first movie, less overt and more entertaining.