You will believe an out-of-shape panda with an eating disorder and the attention span of a gnat can become a master of the martial arts in a matter of days, and all because he believes in himself. Or maybe you won’t, but that’s the self-esteem boosting message of this formulaic fable.
Po(voice of Jack Black) works with his father, Mr. Ling (James Hong), in the family noodle shop -- the Lings have broth in their veins, as Papa Goose (yes, Po’s dad is a goose -- remember children, there are all kinds of families) likes to say. But Po dreams of being a martial artist like his idols, the Furious Five; all trained under legendary Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and use their awesomely cool skills to protect the poor, rescue the imperiled, empower the downtrodden and impress the pathetically ordinary. Which is not to say Po does anything about achieving his dream: He’s too gluttonous and easily distracted. But fate steps in where discipline fears to tread: Gnomic turtle master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has a vision that the notorious Tai Ling (Ian McShane), a kung fu master who turned to the dark side and has an Oedipal bone to pick with Shifu, will soon return and rip the peace right out of bucolic Peaceful Valley. Only the legendary Dragon Warrior can stop him, and Shifu is sure that the warrior is one of his prize pupils: Masters Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogan) and Crane (Ben Cross). But to everyone’s astonishment, Oogway instead points his ancient claw at Po. The Furious Five are collectively and individually furious, and Shifu refuses to train the portly panda. But after Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes the prison where he’s been confined for 20 years and makes tracks for Peaceful Valley and the five defy their master to intercept him, Shifu has no choice: He must turn this flabby, smarty pants plush toy into a warrior the like of which the world has never seen.
KUNG FU PANDA is beautifully animated, the celebrity voice performances are terrific, and the action sequences negotiate the fine line between being physically convincing and becoming too intense for the young children who are the film’s primary audience. And it’s blessedly free of cheap pop-culture gags – if only someone had resisted the urge to recycle Carl Douglas’ 1974 novelty hit “Kung Fu Fighting” for the umpteenth time. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh