Rated: PG for sequences of martial arts action Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 6, 2008 Released by: DreamWorks SKG
This simplistic, yet sumptuously mounted computer-animated entry believes in its rotund black-and-white hero.
Kung Fu Panda is an amiable, hardly full-bodied kiddie pic which never really achieves the heights of an oriental slant to the studio's logo at the outset. Yet, it reigns in hearty fun to notice that something special can come from within.
This family comedy with action and adventure starring a vocally-animated Jack Black (Shark Tale) as the bumbling Po isn't really as funny as the filmmakers intend it to be. Maybe in part because of the lack of inspiration noticeably eschews pop-culture references.
The direction by neophytes John Stevenson and Mark Osborne brings the scenic China rural backgrounds to life (influenced by the Li River Valley).
There is enough action and pratfalls in the procrastinating storyline which relies on the familiar mantra of needing to believe. Besides "there are no accidents" and "the present is a gift".
Po secretly desires martial arts and really doesn't want to be a noodle server all his life, so happenstance gives him the opportunity to be the newly anointed Dragon Warrior (sans time-travel and prop, similar in nature to the recent live-action The Forbidden Kingdom).
In this broad realization of themes gleaned from The Karate Kid or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Po supersedes the "Furious Five" (Angelina Jolie's Tigress, Lucy Liu's Viper, David Cross's Crane, Seth Rogen's Mantis, and Jackie Chan's Monkey) at the realization of the wise, aging Oogway (Randall Duk Kim).
In the diverting Jade Palace, this really irks two-foot kung fu Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as much as the others that Po is the chosen one. But, the story takes its time to let Po's transition occur as he must face the vengeful snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) imprisoned for pride and apparently not seriously considered as the Dragon Warrior by the abstruse turtle Oogway.
For older viewers, there isn't much in terms of depth beyond the scenery and interplay, the best of which comes from Po and Shifu, especially when they vie for dumplings with chopsticks. Moppets will obviously like the mischievous nature of Po who'll get some almond cookies as he learns the kung-fu technique, as well as the Furious Five battling the escaped Tai Lung on a long suspension bridge, as well as the latter's climactic, wacky and intense exchange with Po.
The reverberating score with Far Eastern timbre combines with the vocals, especially a ranging Hoffman who offers gravitas with comedic timing to make it all go down easy. Yet, if Jolie and Chan aren't heard much and Black's ebullience being more irritating at times than hilarious there are some lustrous widescreen images that makes the Asian topography a wonder for Po and his master to behold.
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