, 90 min, 2008
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Writers: Jonathan Aibel (screenplay) & Glenn Berger (screenplay), Ethan Reiff (story) & Cyrus Voris (story)
Stars: Jack Black, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie
Kung Fu Panda is a pretty enjoyable and funny little animated film designed to be a blockbuster. Its story is old and simple, its jokes contemporary and amusing, and its energy level almost alarmingly high.
In the Asian “Valley of Peace”, an overweight (or perhaps just the right size for his type?) panda named Po (voiced by Jack Black) serves as a waiter in his the family noodle restaurant run by his father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), who appears to be a stork of some kind.
Since he was a kid (which in many ways he is still), Po has followed the adventures of the Fearsome Five, a group of budding young kung fu masters that includes Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). They are led by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a diminutive little creature who packs quite a punch.
When the ancient turtle Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), the temple master, is poised to choose the long-anticipated Dragon Warrior, Po is in the right place at the right time, and it’s 6-to-5-and-pick-’em as to whether fate or coincidence causes him to – you guessed it – be named to the prestigious spot. Even Po thinks there’s been some sort of mistake, and those thoughts turn to wishes combined with further belief when Shifu’s former student turned warlord Tai Lung (the excellent Ian McShane of TV’s Deadwood) breaks out of prison and threatens the village. The Fearsome Five become less and less convinced of Po’s skills as a kung fu fighter, just as Shifu begins to have faith in the panda.
This is all part of a beautifully animated action comedy from directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. The film is great-looking, though there’s little plot. It’s entertaining enough, though it will likely cause enjoyment in the younger set more than their parents.
Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman have a good and convincing rapport, despite the fact they likely didn’t voice their roles at the same time. McShane manages to make a petty and spiteful snow leopard almost as frightening as his beloved and much-missed TV character of Al Swearingen (though with far less cursing).
It’s perhaps a testament to just how involving this film becomes that I didn’t notice till a day after seeing the film that both Po and Tai Lung were adopted, yet only Tai Lung’s adoption is ever mentioned, and fairly briefly. If the film is somewhat predictable, it’ a nice lightweight entertainment, good for what it is.