Chosen Ones

In which Norm spins up the new 4K releases of KUNG FU PANDA 4 and BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE. Synergy!

Chosen Ones

Two things kept me from sending this out yesterday. First, I got my first dose of the shingles vaccine, which made my teeth taste like nickels (don’t ask how I know what nickels taste like, we all know), and second, Donald Trump was found guilty on 34 felony counts, which created an instant international day of joy. I spent most of last night posting dumb jokes on Bluesky, and I regret none of them.

But today is a new day, and there are new releases to write about. So let’s do it.

I want to start with Kung Fu Panda 4, which arrives on 4K and Blu-ray precisely sixteen years and two weeks after the first film in the esteemed DreamWorks Animation series premiered at Cannes. I was there, and it was a very strange experience: Every single person in the Palais was wondering why we were watching this Hollywood cartoon with a silly name in the same grand auditorium scheduled to premiere films by Assayas, Despleschin and Spielberg. (It was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but still.)

And then we watched it, and it was a really good movie. Like, good enough that I still remember it vividly, complete with French subtitles. And the second one was good too. And the third, while not quite as good, was still pretty solid, seemingly bringing the series to a close by explaining exactly why bun-loving giant panda Po (voiced by a perfectly cast Jack Black) was chosen to be the Dragon Warrior of legend in the first movie, and letting him integrate his biological father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston, also perfectly cast) into his existing family structure with adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong, also also perfectly cast).

You might have noticed that it’s the casting that really makes this series special. DreamWorks Animation has always been inclined to throw money at big stars – the studio’s first feature, Antz, basically has no other reason to exist beyond Jeffrey Katzenberg noticing Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone were on the lot on the same day – but the Kung Fu Panda films are somehow different. They do chase A-listers, but they use them as actors rather than names.

(I would also say this about the How To Train Your Dragon movies, for which the filmmakers pursued established actors with engaging voices, rather than full-on movie stars … with apologies to Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera, who will always be A-listers in my heart.)

Kung Fu Panda 4 adds Viola Davis and Ke Huy Quan to its stable of Oscar-winning ringers, playing a chameleon and a pangolin who complicate an enlightened Po’s attempts to appoint the next Dragon Warrior. Also there’s this fox bandit named Zhen (Awkwafina), who lets Po in on the aforementioned chameleon’s elaborate scheme to acquire the power of every deceased kung-fu master in the nation and become the most powerful warrior ever known.

Oh, and Li Shan and Mr. Ping are opening a restaurant together.

You can forgive me for hoping KFP 4 would spend more time letting Cranston and Hong bicker about dim sum, right? That’s the real pleasure of a movie like this, letting esteemed actors create silliness in the background while the rest of the cast talk breathlessly about this threat or that battle. It’s the absurdity of watching a funny-animal kung-fu movie that captivated us the first time around, with KFP 1’s loving re-interpretations of classic Shaw Brothers throwdowns bolstered by surprisingly intelligent character dynamics.

The sequels have made sure to respect the formula, and it’s still paying off. And for those of us who feel underserved about the screen time afforded to snacks, Universal’s 4K and Blu-ray editions include a short film, Dueling Dumplings, in which Po and Zhen exchange some very pointed opinions about their favorite food.

Like most of the DreamWorks Animation home releases, this is a stunningly beautiful disc; Universal’s 4K offers a 2160p master that looks like it was output straight from the server, showcasing fur and scales and impossibly detailed locations in pixel-perfect detail. The Atmos soundtrack is similarly precise, delighting in the contrast of action sounds with naturalistic background noises. It’s a keeper.

Extras on the companion Blu-ray (and on the standard BD release) are split between stuff for grown-ups and stuff for kids – though there’s some crossover, I guess. Director Mike Mitchell, co-director Stephanie Ma Stine, production designer Paul Duncan, and character-animation head Sean Sexton and story head Calvin Tsang discuss the challenges of picking up the KFP franchise eight years after the last chapter in an insightful and energetic audio commentary, and featurettes that look at the production, introduce the new cast members and drop in on the recording sessions.

Younger viewers will enjoy the tutorials on drawing the characters and constructing a shadow-puppet theater, and everyone can watch Jack Black make his own dumplings (pan-fried pork and cabbage, if you were wondering) and marvel at how perfectly his physicality translates to CG panda’s. I guess it always has.

Next, there’s Bob Marley: One Love, the latest in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody wave of Oscar-chasing nostalgia music biopics, this one directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who got Will Smith his asterisked Oscar for King Richard a couple of years back.

And you know how King Richard spent its entire running time refusing to address the toll Richard Williams' monomaniacal behavior exacted on everyone around him because his insane plan to nurture champion tennis players actually worked? One Love is similarly self-reinforcing, tracking the eponymous reggae godhead – played by Kingsley Ben-Adir – over a few crucial years in his life.

The music is great, and Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch do their best to inhabit the very distinct personalities of Bob and Rita Marley, but Green speeds through every scene as though he’s making a Walk Hard-style parody, with people constantly telling Bob how important he is and what a genius he is while Rita – who was grievously injured in the assassination attempt on Bob’s life that opens the film – repeatedly reminds him to stay true to himself and maybe also stop sleeping around so much.

The thing is, we didn’t know he was sleeping around, because the movie never mentions it; in fact, the movie doesn’t mention much of anything that might blunt the movie’s image of Marley as a living saint who sang great music and unified a splintering Jamaica, probably, with the One Love concert in Kingston in 1978. It’s the kind of storytelling that has a scene where one of the Wailers brings home a copy of the Exodus soundtrack and Bob asks him what he’s listening to – and even if that was the exact way “Exodus” came to be, it feels like total bollocks.

Same for the scene where a doctor tells Bob that the melanoma on his toe will kill him if they don’t amputate the afflicted digit; Bob refuses, the doctor frowns and the movie is just … fine with it. Obviously I’m not asking the movie to rewrite history, but surely there’s a way to write or stage that scene so that Bob Marley doesn’t appear to casually choose to die of cancer. Any parent on Earth would chew off their own toe to get more time with their kids. Two, even.

Full marks for the 4K disc, though, which boasts a bouncy Atmos soundtrack to go with the vivid 2160p master: We’re placed in the exact center of the soundstage for every event, whether it’s a few people jamming or a concert with tens of thousands of cheering fans. That, at least, is thrilling Extras amount to 45 minutes of featurettes – all of which lean heavily on the filmmakers’ quest for authenticity and the participation of Marley’s own family – and 10 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, including Bob meeting with Mick Jagger and the breakup of the Wailers. That last one feels like it might have been important, but what do I know.

Kung Fu Panda 4 is available now in 4K/Blu-ray and Blu-ray/DVD combo editions from Universal Studios Home Entertainment; Bob Marley: One Love is available in separate 4K and Blu-ray editions from Paramount Home Entertainment, though a combo steelbook is also out there.

Also! For those of you who kept reading all the way down to this bottom bit here, I'm giving away two 4K/BD combo editions of Kung Fu Panda 4, courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment! Just e-mail me at with the subject line "Dumplings" before noon ET on Monday, June 3rd; winners will be selected at random. And, as always, thanks for reading.

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