“Kung Fu Panda” is the story of a fat (is there any other kind?) panda that dreams about being an awesome kung fu warrior, and when given the chance, rises to the occasion. In-between those moments, we get plenty of fat jokes at the panda’s expense, and enough cartoon kung fu violence to, possibly, convince parents this may not be the right movie to be taking your very impressionable kids. Especially if said kids have a bad habit of using little sis as a punching dummy to try out his new “moves”.
The above said, Dreamworks’ “Kung Fu Panda” is a fun little movie, although “little” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Take a look at the voice cast: Jack Black as Po the panda, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Dustin Hoffman as Shifu, and of course, the always incredible Ian McShane (of Deadwood fame) as the villainous Tai Lung. Which reminds me: I was never really sure why Tai Lung was supposed to be such a villain; as far as I can tell, his only qualification for the mantle is that he’s really good at kung fu, and he really, really wants that kung fu scroll that, when read, will endow the reader with incredible kung fu mastery. But to hear the movie talk about him, you would think the guy went around eating babies or some such.
But I digress.
In “Kung Fu Panda”, Jack Black voices Po, a happy-go-lucky panda who toils away in his father’s (voiced by the venerable James Hong, no less) noodle shop. His father dreams of passing on the family business, which includes the family’s secret ingredient noodle soup recipe to his son, but Po has other dreams – namely joining up with his idols, the five martial arts masters known as the Furious Five, and fighting the good fight against villainy and such. Alas, being a panda, he’s a bit, well, fat, and not all that coordinated. Or fast. Or able to climb a lot of stairs really fast. Because, you know, being fat and all. But as it turns out, Po’s secret weapon is none other than his appetite and prodigious belly, which comes in mighty handy when Tai Lung escapes his prison (guarded by 1,000 soldiers to Tai Lung’s singular prisoner) and seeks vengeance after 20 years of captivity.
Along the way there’s something about Po being the chosen Dragon Warrior, destined to save the town from Tai Lung, or some such. Perhaps fortunately, such lofty screenwriting ambitions get lost in the film’s never ending flurry of fat jokes, which ranges from chuckle-worthy to gut-busters. There really isn’t a whole lot to “Kung Fu Panda” when you get right down to it – it’s the story of an overweight underdog who finally gets the chance to reach for the brass ring, and in the process realizes that his weaknesses were really his true strengths to begin with, and that he should embrace them. Or something to that effect. To be honest with you, I was too busy laughing to really notice.
As a caveat, I should say that I am not a big animation fan, and aside from Pixar, I couldn’t tell you the name of another studio that still makes animated movies today. “Kung Fu Panda” is not a Pixar movie, which doesn’t keep its animation from looking spectacular. The film’s one shortcoming is the story, which is not exactly deep stuff, and more often than not the film is one big flurry of animal kicks, punches, and secret moves. It’s basically a Shaw Brothers kung fu movie, except with actual animals instead of humans just doing the animal moves ala the praying mantis, the snake, the tiger, etc.
“Kung Fu Panda” was an excursion to the theaters by myself and a small army of nieces and nephews. They all enjoyed it, with the exception of the smallest nephew, who kept asking me when we were going to leave to go play in the arcade next door. Later, during the climactic battle between Po and Tai Lung, my nephew fell asleep. The rest were old enough to enjoy most, if not all of the comedy, and had a ball from opening to closing credits. Unlike a lot of Pixar’s animated movies, I don’t think there were any of the “just for you adults” jokes in “Kung Fu Panda”. Maybe I missed them. The huge helping of cartoony violence aside, “Panda” seems tailored for kids, and adults who can laugh without expecting too much from the slim story. In that respect, it’s a rousing success.
Mark Osborne, John Stevenson (director) / Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger (screenplay), Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris (story)
CAST: Jack Black … Po (voice)
Dustin Hoffman … Shifu (voice)
Angelina Jolie … Tigress (voice)
Ian McShane … Tai Lung (voice)
Jackie Chan … Monkey (voice)
Seth Rogen … Mantis (voice)
Lucy Liu … Viper (voice)
David Cross … Crane (voice)