In this computer-animated film, Panda bear Po (voice of Jack Black) dreams of martial arts. His father, noodle maker Mr. Ping (James Hong), hopes Po will take over the family business. "We all have our place in the world," says Mr. Ping. Meanwhile, renegade kung fu fighter Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes from prison, vowing to return to the Valley of Peace and become the Dragon Warrior. Kung fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) searches for the true Dragon Warrior, the fighter who can read the Dragon Scroll and defeat Tai Lung. None of the Furious Five - the premier fighters in the valley - is the true Warrior.
Can clumsy, overweight Po be the Warrior? Will he earn the respect of the Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross)? Does Po learn to believe in himself? You betcha.
Jack Black is the voice of earnest but klutzy Po. Dustin Hoffman voices grouchy kung fu teacher Shifu. Ian McShane is nasty Tai Lung, Shifu's protégé who's gone over to the dark side. They have the best parts and speak well. Hoffman's gravelly voiced Shifu is especially good. Others in the cast have vocally less interesting parts for A-list actors - Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu. Randall Duk Kim is fun as the voice of ancient turtle Oogway who disappears in a burst of peach blossoms. "You must believe," he says. Michael Clarke Duncan is the commander of the prison.
"Kung Fu Panda" is lively, colorful animated fun for youngsters. Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson provide lots of action, especially in the martial arts scenes. (They'll look good in the film's I-MAX version.) The plot is predictable and may be slow going for adults. Scriptwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger do offer some verbal jokes. "There is no charge for awesomeness," says the narrator. Oogway and Mr. Ping announce the film's moral lesson. "To make something special you just have to believe it's special." Art direction by Tang Kheng Heng is splendid.
"Kung Fu Panda" draws on other recent films. Shifu owes much to Yoda in George Lucas's "Star Wars." Po is reminiscent of Luke Skywalker. Tai Lung suggests "He Who Must Not Be Named" in the Harry Potter films. Still, "Kung Fu Panda" is a bright and cheerful film with a sweet dumpling scene after the (very beautiful) credits. PG for martial arts sequences. 92 minutes.
"Kung Fu Panda,"
Martial arts bear,