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