| 'Kung Fu Panda' a real kick
Dreamworks Animation, the studio that brought you the jolly green ogre named Shrek, has struck franchise gold again with a pleasantly plump, clumsy and huggable black-and-white bear named Po (voiced by Jack Black who was Lenny in “Shark Tale”).
This film is a real charmer. It is an emotionally touching story about pursuing your dreams and finding true happiness in life. Po is the son of Mr. Ping, a goose who is the owner and chef of the most popular noodle restaurant in the Valley of Peace. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, Po wants to be a martial arts master.
The historic day arrives when the spiritual leader Master Oogway, a tortoise, must choose the Dragon Warrior. It seems a foregone conclusion that one of the Furious Five – Tigress (voice of Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan) or Mantis (Seth Rogen) – will be bestowed this coveted honor. They are all prize students, each with their own distinctive fighting style, of master trainer Shifu (two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman), a two-foot-tall red panda.
After numerous slapstick antics trying to get inside the gates of the Jade Palace, Po makes a fireworks-propelled entrance. After literally falling out of the sky, he is selected as the unlikely hero. He trains to be a ninja warrior.
Po has a never-say-die attitude and refuses to quit. Shifu utilizes Po’s voracious appetite to bring out agile talents and hidden skills that will allow this panda to fulfill his destiny.
The ultimate confrontation is a battle royal of good vs. evil. The worthy adversarial foe is Tai Lung (Ian McShane who was Captain Hook in “Shrek the Third”), a ruthless and physically imposing snow leopard that recently escaped a high-security prison carved out of a mountain and guarded by an army of 1,000 hippopotamuses.
The design of these various stuffed animals is spectacular. The leopard has fiery eyes and the roly-poly panda has a huge belly. The mobility and flexibility given to these CGI characters by the gifted team of animators makes the acrobatic stunt work phenomenal. The vivid cinematography, meticulous ancient Chinese architectural designs and the vibrant colors are a visual treat for the eyes.
Kids will love their anthropomorphic qualities, especially the ability to talk. The toy collection should be a coveted item for Christmas coinciding with the release of the DVD. The movie wins points for originality by combining martial arts with cartoon figures. This is something that has never been done before in the realm of animation.
Black and Hoffman have a winning chemistry. Hoffman steals the show with all the best lines. There are many humorous moments that will elicit laughs.
The superior voice work by the ensemble cast and the straightforward linear storytelling turn this into a timeless fairy tale classic. The movie leaves you with a positive, upbeat message.
The IMAX version is available exclusively in Johnson County at AMC Studio 30.
Keith Cohen, The Movie Guy