Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 6/6/08
Music: Hans Zimmer and John Powell
Cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan

A big lazy panda bear named Po (Jack Black) works in his father's noodle shop while dreaming of being of kung fu master. When the announcement is made that the legendary Dragon Warrior will be chosen, Po rushes to the scene and catches Master Oogway's watchful eye. To the astonishment and disappointment of everyone, Po is chosen as the Dragon Warrior, leaving poor Master Shifu (cranky Dustin Hoffman) with the unfortunate task of training him in the ways of kung fu. When Shifu's arch nemesis Tai Lung (Ian McShane) learns of this, he breaks out of prison in order to claim vengeance, as well as get his hands on the mystical Dragon Scroll. At Oogway's request, Shifu forces himself to believe in the bumbling Po and finally starts to see his potential as a fierce warrior. Which is a good thing, since Tai Lung is fast approaching...

The familiar adage "to be something special, you must believe it is special" is the major theme of this underdog tale of dreams, discipline, and determination. Of course, it's paired with an overabundance of juvenile humor which makes it fall a bit flat. As an action film it really delivers, but the tedious humor quickly becomes tiresome and drags the film down. The film would have fared much better if they had only played it straight! Unfortunately, that's not what the American market wants (or what Hollywood perceives that the American market wants).

The animation is superb and full of fantastic imagery. The art direction is excellent and the classically stylized Chinese environments are beautiful to behold. The spectacular opening sequence is alone worth the price of admission. Hans Zimmer's music score is also superb and perfectly compliments the setting. The action sequences are very well realized and full of energy and style. The editing and choreography make it abundantly clear that the animators are kung fu fans themselves, and the film really delivers the goods as both an action film and as an homage to the classics that inspired it. The voice actors are very good, except that Jack Black's exuberant overacting can get irritating. He needs to tone it down a couple of notches. Apart from my various nitpicking, I found the film consistently and thoroughly engaging, leaving a smile on my face where so many others have recently failed.