Laura CliffordPo (voice of Jack Black) dreams, quite literally, of being a kung fu master and joining his idols, The Furious Five Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) in battling evil. He is obviously the adopted son of the local noodle shop owner, though, and his chance of living his dream seem remote until a series of random events land the pudgy panda at just the right place and right time to save the inhabitants of the Valley of Peace as “Kung Fu Panda.”
Po’s daddy (James Hong) has his dream, too. He wants his ponderous son to take over the noodle business and promises, when that day comes, to tell Po the secret ingredient to his secret ingredient soup. Po is less than thrilled with the prospect and is more interested in attending the ceremony to see which of the Furious Five is to be selected for the ultimate honor to be named the Dragon Warrior.
There is a monkey wrench thrown into the works when the evil snow leopard, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), breaks out of his heavily fortified prison and returns to the valley to take what he considers his right to be the Dragon Warrior. With this deadly threat looming, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) must take the raw material (and I mean, raw) that is Po and shape him into a formidable adversary for Tai Lung. This impossible task seems, well, impossible until Shifu finds that hidden quality in Po that might just make him the genuine Warrior.
There is not anything new in this cute screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (from the story by Ethan Reiff and Cyus Voris) with hopeless and hapless Po aspiring to be a super hero martial artist under the tutelage of a master and train to stop the bad guy. It’s kind of like an animated version, with animals, of “The Karate Kid,” only funnier and less preachy.
Over the past twenty or so years the vocal actors who used to give voice to animated creatures and critters in many a Disney film have replaced by “name” actors Hoffman, Jolie, Black and the rest in “KFP,” for example. It seems that an entire acting stratum has been replaced by those with faces familiar to us all. We are, I guess, a more visual, than aural, society.
However, the screen talent that gives tone to the many characters in “Kung Fu Panda” do a fine job, with only the occasional familiar voice, like Michael Clarke Duncan as the commander of the guard, calling attention. Jack Black does a perfect job in giving his tubby Po a proper whine as the wannabe warrior. Dustin Hoffman, while I did not recognize his voice, does well in fleshing out Shifu as the unwilling sensei. The rest are OK.
Pixar is still the quintessential animation house with the natural realism of “The Incredibles,” “Toy Story (1 & 2)” and the rest. DreamWorks does a good job with Kung Fu Panda” but it is a shade too predictable to be a great animation. Still, a likable movie fits the bill when we talk about family entertainment. I give it a B.
"Kung Fu Panda" is an agreeable enough animation with the kid-worthy message to believe in oneself, but the embarrassment of riches that is its superstar vocal cast provides poor returns. With the exception of Jack Black in the starring role, there isn't a single performer who couldn't have been replaced, and probably improved upon, by a professional vocal actor. Jackie Chan hired to make monkey noises? B-
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