Kung Fu Panda

Thinking he has completed his kung fu training, giant panda Po (Jack Blackj) is offered a dumpling reward in Kung Fu Panda. (© 2008 DreamWorks Animation LLC.)

Kung Fu Panda is the animated story of Po, a Giant Panda whose imagination is as big as his belly, hilariously voiced by Jack Black. And while Po is not exactly built for agility and speed, he fantasizes himself as an awesome warrior while serving up the noodles in his family restaurant and awaiting his big kung fu moment.

Kung Fu Panda features an all-star cast, in case you care about hearing A-list voices. In fact, you can hardly throw a noodle or a kung fu punch without hitting a celebrity voice such as Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Ian McShane, and Seth Rogen, not that I recognized any of them.

Kung Fu Panda will satisfy kids and non-warrior grown-ups alike. And in contrast with wannabe comedies that expose their entire cache of ha-ha’s in their two-minute trailers, this movie’s funnies never run out.

Just to get it out of the way, I will mention that the story is strangely familiar. From where I was sitting, Kung Fu Panda played out like an animated Star Wars, starring martial arts animals like a pint-size Red Panda named Master Shifu as a kung fu style Yoda, the grand master tortoise Oogway as a kung fu Obiwan, and the dreaded snow leopard Tai Lung as Darth Vadar.

Screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (TV’s King of the Hill) keep the content endearing, the pace furious, and the characters rich, including a goose named Mr. Ping who is the unexplained father of Po, the Furious Five warriors—Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper, and Monkey. And a wildly scary leopard that thrives on vengeance.

The kung fu high points are many. The dazzling animation. The blend of Zen wisdom and comedy that keep the wide, sluggish panda on the move. The universal themes of finding confidence, pursuing dreams, and turning weakness into strength.

And most of all, there’s the ever-intriguing idea that there are no accidents. Such as finding yourself in the theater this summer and treating yourself to some light and poignant entertainment, Kung Fu style. B+

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