Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda

****

Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

Zen master Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim) must choose the Dragon Warrior, an invincible kung fu master who will be the only one capable of defeating the ferocious Tai Lung (Ian McShane) in the unlikely event he should escape from maximum security prison. Martial arts teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) presumes that the Dragon Warrior will come from within his current band of students, the legendary Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan). Instead Oogway chooses an unlikely overweight panda named Po ( Jack Black), possessed of little grace let alone fighting skills.

Meanwhile Tai Lung has, of course, escaped from prison.

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Let's face it, martial arts are cool and here to stay. Movies seem to have followed two paths: one to the art film, with balletic, gravity-defying Crouching Dragons and the other with the inevitable Jackie Chan making light of the whole thing. So the presence of Jackie (whom, we presume, did all his own stunts) in the voice cast should tip you off to this one.

In case you are wondering, Tigress, Crane et al really are those creatures and are not just cool nicknames. This may constitute typecasting for Lucy Liu who has previously been a viper in Kill Bill. The Furious Five are all possessed of mad kung fu fighting skills, even the Mantis!

Yes, it's another one of those you-can-do-it-if-you-try-and-it-doesn't-matter-what-your-handicap-is moral stories that seem to be the staple of kiddie flicks these days, but it is all done with good humour and tongue fairly well stuffed into cheek as Po, the pudgy panda goes from zero to hero. Even one of those sappy father/son encounters is nicely sent up.

Jack Black brings his sass and all-around dudeness to the part of Po. Dustin Hoffman does some of his best character work in years as the grumpy Zen warrior master. Ian McShane does a good impersonation of George Sander's Shere Khan from The Jungle Book. The rest of the big names don't get much of a look in dialogue-wise – there's no time as the film bounds along to its conclusion.

The computer animation is on a par with Shrek series, the faux Chinese backgrounds are loving realized and even the Dreamworks studio logo is given an oriental makeover! You'll have to wait for Pixar's Wall-E for the next leap in technique, however.

Although fluffy-bunny light - and most of the Chinese peasantry ARE fluffy bunnies or piggies - this is a thoroughly enjoyable confection that will amuse the kids and provide some decent laughs for those of us for whom attempting a roundhouse kick would require pain medication and physical therapy (I know, I tried).

The eight-year-old I press-ganged into coming to the cinema thought the whole thing was a riot, hooting and laughing through the proceedings. The only drawback is that you will have to resign yourself to being Kung-Fu'd all the way home, so a cricketer's box might be advantageous, he opined in a falsetto tone.

Reviewed on: 14 Jun 2008
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Po the pudgy panda becomes an unlikely hero in this kids' adventure.
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Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson

Writer: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris

Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler

Year: 2008

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US

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