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Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda is a thrilling, funny, charming and inspiring animation triumph that brings out the hero in all of us.


In the great tradition of lovable but challenged cartoon heroes, along comes Po (Jack Black), the well-meaning if awkward Panda bear who happens to be the world's biggest fan of kung fu--or so it seems. It isn't exactly a talent needed for his place of employment, which happens to his family's noodle shop. But in the category of "stranger things have happened," the klutzy Po actually manages to hook up and practice the great martial art with his own dream team--legends known as the Furious Five, including seductive Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and the hilarious Monkey (Jackie Chan, of course). This all takes place under the watchful eye of the group's esteemed leader, Master Shifu (think Mr. Miyagi as voiced by Dustin Hoffman). After a series of sequences showing Po in full Rocky/Karate Kid training mode, his newfound skills are put to use when the threatening Snow Leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) enters the scene and starts to wreak havoc, forcing Po to summon up every ounce of courage and save the day.


Dreamworks, whose previous animated hits have included Shrek, Madagascar and Bee Movie, has very successfully mined the brand of CGI 'toons that rely heavily on their all-star voice casts. Kung Fu Panda is no exception, and, in fact, probably has the best mix of celebrity voice talent to date with a cast that most notably reunites Shark Tale stars Jack Black and Angelina Jolie. Black is a dead-on perfect choice to voice the clumsy but friendly kung-fu loving Po. He creates a wonderfully likeable Panda, getting the audience on his side right from the very first moments. The great thing about his Po--much like Patton Oswalt's work as Remy, the culinary rat in last year's Pixar triumph Ratatouille--is we can readily identify with the outsized dreams these characters share. Jolie, Cross, Rogen and Liu, who make up the core of the Furious Five, all have their moments--but just not enough of them. Especially fun is Chan's work as Monkey, while Hoffman is appropriately wise as their leader. Deadwood's McShane fills the bill nicely as the villainous Tai Lung.


Like so many animated films these days, Kung Fu Panda is one in which the directorial credit is shared by two veterans of the art, John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. They prove more than adept at making Panda one of the more artful animation entries in years, a wonderful summer family movie treat. In fact, outside of the work coming out of Japanese Anime, this may be the most stunning looking film of it's kind. It's almost like an animated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, perfectly capturing the look and feel of that martial arts masterpiece but still remaining accessible enough even for the youngest of audience members. Unlike most before it, Panda also doesn't always go for the obvious laughs and finds it's real soul in staying true to it's central story without selling out any of it's characters for some cheap easy comedy. No small feat. One fine movie.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.