Kung Fu Panda (2008)

You'll believe a panda can practice kung fu! Actually that's one of the easier feats of Kung Fu Panda, the animated kids' martial arts feature from DreamWorks Animation. This feature focuses a bit too much on its two leads, but it proves a funny action movie that shows reverence for more traditional martial arts movies.

In this anthromorphic world of the Valley of Peace (in ancient China, naturally) the panda bear Po (Jack Black) dreams of being a great martial artist with his heroes, the Furious Five. Unfortunately Po is fat, lazy, and apparently destined to be a noodle cook.

When the fearsome snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes from prison, the turtle master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) declares that it is time to declare which warrior is the fabled Dragon Warrior. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) assembles his students, the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). A mishap with a chair propelled by fireworks leads to Oogway selecting Po as the Dragon Warrior -- something that sits quite poorly with Shifu and Tigress.

What follows is a blend of the traditional "lovable loser finds his strength" story and some very mixed martial arts. While kids will enjoy the antics of lovable Po (and quite a few fat jokes at his expense), kung fu fans will enjoy everything from what would be wire-fu (if this wasn't animated) to slow motion and extreme speed. There's an exciting sequence of dueling chopsticks, not to mention one of the most amusing training montages you're likely to see this year.

Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman are the perfect voices for their roles in this movie. Black tones down his usual hyper-cool slacker persona to make us root for Po, while Hoffman supplies surprising wit as the frustrated teacher who can't believe his worst student is the one destined to save the day. If I have one complaint, it's that with the massive focus on Po and Shifu the other characters have little to do: The talent voicing the Furious Five is truly impressive, but they have little to do but react to Po -- and the end result is that just about anyone could have done the voice work the actors did.

I had a lot of fun at Kung Fu Panda. There's plenty of humor here, and the action is reminiscent enough of "traditional" kung fu films to provide some nice thrills along the way. So if you're looking for some good laughs and good action, check out the panda with the moves!

Overall Grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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