Po the panda (Jack Black) is an enthusiastic kung fu groupie who dreams of fighting alongside his heroes, the Furious Five. By day, Po works in his dad’s noodle shop. But at night the panda’s dreams are full of kung fu adventures where he takes on the bad guys side by side with Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and Viper (Lucy Liu). Po longs to train with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a strange looking creature in charge of the Furious Five and the mentor martial arts enthusiasts want to have as a guide in their kung fu studies.
But there’s one or two or maybe 100 reasons why Po’s dreams might never come true. He doesn’t know even the basic kung fu moves. He’s klutzy and easily distracted, and he’s severely overweight - even for a giant panda. Po loves food and it loves him right back, so his chance of ever being accepted into Master Shifu’s group appears to be about as likely as landing a spokesperson spot for a fitness center.
The Voice Cast
Ian McShane gives the character of Tai Lung just the right menacing edge, however it’s Dustin Hoffman who really stands out. Hoffman is pitch perfect as a master of kung fu who very reluctantly takes on an out-of-shape panda who’s training process includes a lot of food rewards (one of the best scenes from the film is a battle between Po and Shifu over a bowl of dumplings). If only it was easy to figure out what species of animal Hoffman’s Shifu is supposed to be. Is it a fox? A mouse? Some folks even see a little bit of wolf in there. The official word is that Shifu is a small red panda.
My opinion of what sort of animal he was changed throughout the film, and I found it distracting not knowing what he was supposed to be. It might have been helpful to have one of his followers mention he’s a red panda somewhere in the movie. It’s also never explained why the citizens of this Chinese town are pigs and bunnies, or why Po’s dad is a goose. Distractions are never a good thing when you’re trying to get into a movie, even an animated comedy featuring a wide variety of animals into martial arts, and I found myself wondering about the choice of animals and getting pulled out of the film.
Po’s the only character with any sort of arc although, again, kids won’t care one iota about that aspect of the film. The story’s incredibly simple and straightforward, and Po’s transformation from daydreaming noodle shop worker to a skilled kung fu practitioner unfolds with few surprises.
As basic as the story is, the animation itself is simply gorgeous. The kung fu action fairly flies off the screen, with some heart-stopping sequences in which you forget you’re watching animated animals square off. Set in China, the background scenery beautifully captures the environment with lush mountains and vivid colors.
Overall, Kung Fu Panda’s an entertaining yet forgettable addition to the animated movie genre, although I’m sure there will be a batch of kids who’ll beg to differ with me on that point. Kids will definitely get a kick out of Po’s lovable personality and may even try out their own kung fu moves on the way out of the theater.
Good but not great, Kung Fu Panda doesn't engage the adult audience in the way Ratatouille, Surf's Up or even Horton Hears a Who did. Nonetheless Kung Fu Panda should satisfy families looking for a colorful, action-packed movie that's purely escapist fare.
Kung Fu Panda is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action.
Theatrical Release Date: June 6, 2008