Don’t quit, you must believe,” exhorts Shifu, a martial arts master voiced by Dustin Hoffman. His student is Po, an unlikely choice for dragon master and his country’s latest savior-hero. Alas, he is just “a big, fat panda,” who eats whenever he feels upset and insecure, which is often.
Voiced without much distinction by Jack Black, Po is the likable title hero in the agreeable and relatively undistinguished animated feature “Kung Fu Panda,” the latest entry from DreamWorks, the company that brought us “Shrek.”
Drawing on the martial arts phenomenon and the burgeoning genre of movies with high kicks, dazzling somersaults and extraordinary leaps, this competent adventure has a new age message encased in the rhetoric of mystical mumbo jumbo. Do not give up, find the hero within yourself, get confidence by realizing you are “special” just the way you are.
Action and humor
Who could disagree with the sentiment, especially kids, who are more hungry for action than for axioms about living the good life? The screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Barger provides enough action to keep little ones involved and serves out intermittent doses of humor. One sequence featuring a duel with chopsticks, stilts and tree branches provides the film’s best and most memorable moments.
’Kung Fu Panda’
DIRECTED BY John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
SCREENPLAY BY Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.
STARRING voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Randall Duk Kim, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Ian McShane and James Hong
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
Not much else about “Kung Fu Panda” is memorable, but at 90 minutes, it proceeds swiftly as it mounts a story about its unlikely defender of the empire. For Po has been chosen by the chief guru Oggway to protect the masses from big, bad, ferocious kung fu master Tai Lung, the sole prisoner guarded by 1,000 men. Yet, as the turtle-esque Oggway predicts, Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes and heads home to stake his claim as big, bad leader.
The movie never explains what Tai Lung did or what he wants to do if he defeats Po. If it takes expedient detours, “Kung Fu Panda” is also short on subtlety and creative dimension; whenever it has a chance to explore a character’s personality or pepper the proceedings with witty dialogue, it demurs, thus separating it from the accomplishment of “Shrek.”
I wish the writers played even more with Po’s obvious fat problem and its link with depression and lack of confidence, especially in a time when children’s weight issues are in the headlines. You can tell the creators are acknowledging the subject, but for some reason they pay only fleeting lip service to it.
As for the voices, Hoffman is the only actor who shines, in part because he is given more lines to work with. The rest of the cast, including the Furious Five, turn in perfunctory performances. They are Angelina Jolie as the tigress, Jackie Chan as the monkey, Seth Rogen as the mantis, David Cross as the crane and Lucy Liu as the viper.
“Kung Fu Panda” has been getting a lot of attention ever since it debuted at Cannes. Kids will like it, and adults will appreciate its cute, engaging moments, but it is a long way from the tower of classic animated achievement.
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Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts