Directed by: Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
Premise: An animated film in which a cherubic Panda (voiced by Jack Black) is named the new apprentice to the local kung fu master (voiced by Dustin Hoffman). When the master’s arch nemesis returns, the Panda is the only hope of the local townspeople.
What Works: Kung Fu Panda is a terrific piece of animation. The quality of the animation is as high as anything in Toy Story or Ratatouille, especially in capturing the subtleties of the characters. As a martial arts film, Kung Fu Panda uses animation and traditional martial arts visuals effectively, combining quick edits and slow motion cinematography with physical comedy. This is done especially well in a dumpling fight during Po’s training that is a winning combination of The Matrix and The Three Stooges. The story of Kung Fu Panda distinguishes itself through some superior character writing, especially for Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu and Ian McShane as villain Tai Lung. In the little bit of screen time given to McShane’s character, the story is able to give the film necessary gravitas to carry it through to the end. Jack Black uses his lovable loser persona in the role of Po the Panda, focusing his dry, awkward shtick through a family-friendly lens. The physical comedy and Black’s voice over work combines with some very subtle but effective animation, and the result is one of Black’s best performances since School of Rock.
What Doesn’t: Like a lot of animated films, the story has a strict adherence to formula. Despite some interesting characters, a lot of their relationships and story functions are fairly stock genre conventions.
Bottom Line: Kung Fu Panda is an enjoyable piece of animation with some great character touches. It does not do much that is new, but what it does do, it accomplishes very well.
Episode: #195 (June 29, 2008)