Fists of furry

The en­dear­ing Kung Fu Panda will de­light all kids and adults, writes Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews Film -

KUNG FU PANDA Di­rected by John Steven­son and Mark Os­borne. Voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoff­man, An­gelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Ro­gen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Ran­dall Duk Kim, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Dun­can PG cert, gen re­lease, 95 min SET IN an­cient China, back in the days when most peo­ple in that land had Amer­i­can ac­cents, the ex­u­ber­ant Kung Fu Panda is the latest an­i­mated fea­ture from DreamWorks, which brought us the Shrek fran­chise. The an­i­ma­tion is much more at­trac­tive in the new film, which mer­ci­fully jet­ti­sons the jaded, know­ing movie ref­er­ences that abounded in the Shrek tril­ogy.

Jack Black pro­vides the voice of Po, an obese panda in the myth­i­cal Val­ley of Peace. An ami­able, in­do­lent slob, Po leads a mun­dane life work­ing in the noo­dle shop run by his dad, a goose named Mr Ping and voiced by James Hong.

Never hap­pier than when he’s stuff­ing his face, Po rev­els in vivid dreams, imag­in­ing that he’s a vir­tu­oso ex­po­nent of kung fu. Through a for­tu­itous fluke, he is cho­sen as the val­ley’s long­proph­e­sied Dragon War­rior by Oog­way (Ran­dall Duk Kim), a sage tur­tle who is 1,000 years old, speaks in adages and, we are told, ac­tu­ally in­vented kung fu.

Po can’t be­lieve his luck when he gets to study the high-kick­ing art with the lo­cal su­per­star team known as the Fu­ri­ous Five. They are a ti­gress (An­gelina Jolie), a viper (Lucy Liu), a man­tis (Seth Ro­gan), a crane (David Cross) and a mon­key (Jackie Chan). Kung fu mas­ter Shiftu (Dustin Hoff­man), a per­fec­tion­ist rac­coon, is dis­mayed, but he re­luc­tantly takes on Po as a pupil. Pre­dictably, pan­de­mo­nium en­sues.

By com­plete co­in­ci­dence, treach­er­ous snow leop­ard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) is plot­ting to es­cape from a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity moun­tain prison and seek­ing re­venge on the pop­u­lace of Po’s peace­ful vil­lage. Roly-poly Po makes for the most un­likely screen ac­tion hero since, well, last week when An­gelina Jolie re­cruited James McAvoy as an ac­coun­tant-turned-as­sas­sin in Wanted. Against all the odds, the pouchy fighter finds his hid­den dragon.

Kung Fu Panda is an un­de­mand­ing en­ter­tain­ment rooted in the in­spi­ra­tional phi­los­o­phy of self-be­lief and the won­ders that can achieve, how­ever im­plau­si­ble. “You just need to be­lieve,” Oog­way gravely in­tones. His lines could have been bor­rowed from for­tune cook­ies – or from any num­ber of re­cent an­i­mated movies – but the story of Po is so sweet- na­tured and ap­peal­ing that it gets away with that.

Any­how, that’s al­most be­side the point in this breezy yarn, which pro­ceeds at an en­er­getic pace to a jaunty Hans Zim­mer score. Its four screen­writ­ers and two direc­tors ex­hibit an ev­i­dent re­spect and af­fec­tion for kung fu movies, and they em­bel­lish the film with strik­ing vis­ual de­tails and stylis­tic flour­ishes, and com­puter-gen­er­ated an­i­ma­tion proves ideally suited for stag­ing the most out­landish ac­ro­bat­ics.

Set against eye-catch­ing land­scapes, the movie or­ches­trates vig­or­ous ac­tion se­quences in hand­some widescreen com­po­si­tions. One of the most elab­o­rate in­vokes that ven­er­a­ble sta­ple of com­bat along a rope bridge. The most amus­ing is os­ten­si­bly the sim­plest and in­volves Po and Shiftu in a fren­zied duel over a dumpling – in which the weapons are chop­sticks.

There is noth­ing here to scare or dis­turb the youngest of cin­ema­go­ers, and plenty to amuse ac­com­pa­ny­ing adults.

Po, c’mon: Jack Black voices the hero in Kung Fu Panda

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