“There are no accidents,” counsels martial arts master wolf Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) in Kung Fu Panda, insight that surely applies to the ho-humness of DreamWorks’s latest CG-animated jaunt. Guided by the (not erroneous) notion that young audiences crave familiarity and routine, John Stevenson and Mark Osborne’s film works diligently to conform to genre templates in every respect, resulting in an adventure that’s watchably innocuous and—notwithstanding the portliness of panda hero Po (Jack Black)—decidedly skimpy. In ancient China, Po longs to avoid following in his dad’s noodle shop-proprietor footsteps and become a martial arts hero like his idols the Furious Five, a diverse team of kung fu fighters (made up of Tigress, Mantis, Monkey, Crane and Viper) led by Shifu. Through a wacky mishap, Po winds up being chosen as the famed Dragon Warrior who will protect the village from bitter kung fu titan-turned-villain Tai Lung (Ian McShane), which engenders jealousy and frustration from Shifu and the Furious Five, and leads to training sequences in which the story advocates belief in one’s self (“Nothing is impossible”) as Po’s quick-and-easy avenue to morphing from an unskilled lug into a Bruce Lee badass. It’s a somewhat debatable message, but to belabor the script’s position that self-confidence alone makes astounding physical transformations possible is to take its underlying theme more seriously than does the script, as Kung Fu Panda is generally content to simply coast along on a few Zen platitudes and regularly scheduled Po pratfalls. To counter narrative meagerness, directors Stevenson and Osborne keep the pace fast and light, as well as choreograph the abundant, well-animated action scenes—most notably a chopstick battle between Po and Shifu—with reasonable ingenuity and flair. It’s not enough to obscure the fact that most of the characters, and especially the Furious Five, are pitifully undeveloped (with only two or three lines as Monkey, Jackie Chan enjoys the easiest payday of his career). But in the inoffensively passable film’s favor, Shrek-ish potty humor is nonexistent, and Black is right at home voicing the adolescently hyperactive and insecure Po, in large part because the boisterous panda is really a big, furry eight-year-old version of himself.
- Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
- Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
- Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelia Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan
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