What happens when you combine the cuddliness of a rotund pre-adolescent Panda bear with the ferociousness of martial arts masters? You get the start of a critically and financially successful franchise that appeals to movie lovers of all ages. If this past weekend’s, “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” put you in the mood for another example of what the DreamWorks animators can achieve, consider 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda.”
In “Kung Fu Panda,” Po (voiced by Jack Black) is a likeable panda who lives with his doting dad, a goose who runs a noodle restaurant. Like many young males, Po is an ardent fan of martial arts and idolizes the “Furious Five,” a group of martial arts celebrities. One day, there is a ceremony to determine who will be the next “Dragon Warrior,” a Kung Fu master. Po watches the ceremony and ends up getting chosen, much to the dismay of Shifu (played by Dustin Hoffman), the master of the “Furious Five.” Because Po is overweight, a bit clumsy and has no relevant experience, Shifu and the others have their work cut out for them in transforming him into a capable warrior. He has to learn fast, as Tai Lung (played by Ian McShane), a dangerous snow leopard, has just escaped from prison and the new dragon warrior is on task to capture him.
Although aspects of “Kung Fu Panda’s” plot are predictable, it is still worth watching as it has great animation and fun characters. The animation has a lot of energy, especially in the action scenes. The use of color and texture are mesmerizing and infused with Eastern references. One very well-done sequence shows the “Furious Five” battling Tai Lung on a bridge. This scene, along with several others, seems inspired by Bruce Lee movies.
The cast is excellent. Jack Black is perfect in the lead role. His voice suits the adolescent mix of insecurity and confidence that characterizes Po’s personality. Angelia Jolie is equally strong as Tigress, a member of the “Furious Five.” She is cold to Po at first, but he grows on her.
With its visually stunning story-telling, “Kung Fu Panda” is a great choice for animation fans.