Kung Fu Panda
Dumplings: The fuel of the tenacious Panda.

Golden Mug


Best Animated Film

Theatrical Release Date: 06/06/2008
Directors: Mark Osborne & John Stevenson
Featuring the Voices of: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, Michael Clarke Duncan

If I were going to be a cartoon animal, I’d probably be a wombat. It was a nickname I picked up in Australia (that story isn’t safe for kids) and my round figure doesn’t do much to bely the point.

Jack Black on the other hand would most definitely be some type of bear – and while Pandas technically aren’t bears, the good folks over at Dreamworks animation thought it a good fit – and so do I.

Casting Black as the titular “Kung Fu Panda” was a stroke of comic genius. He plays underdogs so well and his voice is both very accessible for kids and has that sharp, yet goofy edge that adults can appreciate as well. It’s not only in his line delivery that his animated alter-ego shines but also in the extra noises (grunts, screams, exclamations). Just watching and listening to Po the Panda ascend stairs is a comedy workout.

Helping Black along are other notable voice talents like Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, James Hong and Ian McShane. Each of them lend their distinctive voices to the project and breathe energy into their characters. (If you’re wondering who James Hong is, just watch “Big Trouble in Little China” and revel in Lo Pan’s gloriousness.)

The one voice that was more hype than substance was Angelina Jolie. Her character was just rather bland, especially in comparison to the others, and if she was going for a stale, matter of fact persona, then she nailed it. If there were supposed to be layers and other sides to her, it just didn’t translate too well.

Still, that shouldn’t deter you from wanting to see this film. The animators (and of course TWO directors since that’s how all animated films get made these days) created a fantastically lush and vivid landscape, packed with highly entertaining action and comedy. They made the most out of using a widescreen format, giving the film an epic feel that really pays off.

I also enjoyed the opening sequence, shot in a different style of animation – more akin to a Japanese Manga feel than the over-used 3D style that dominates the American animation market. This scene set a great tone for Po’s state of mind as a Kung Fu wannabe about to be thrust into a greater destiny and it would be interesting to see the whole flim presented in this manner. Not that I’m complaining, as again I really did enjoy the clean, beautiful lines, characters and action that the animators came up with in the end.

Another great decision by the filmmakers was keeping this short. At an hour and a half, the film keeps its pace and delivers energy and action from start to finish. While it’s nice to sometimes see characters and stories developed in greater detail, audiences don’t need that every time. Get in and get out, simple is often better.

In deciding whether or not this film is for you, it boils down to a very simple question. Do you like animated films? If so, then Jack Black and company have delivered a great film, worthy of your hard-earned cash and I’m giving “Kung Fu Panda” a 4 out of 5. It’s on par with “Horton Hears a Who!” for entertainment value, utilizing much better pacing and still managing to throw in a good-natured moral to the whole thing.

If all you want is a good time in theaters, “Kung Fu Panda” fits the bill and I’d much rather see it again than either “Indy 4” or “Iron Man“. I guess real people just aren’t doing it for me so far this summer season.