Breaking the trend for animated films featuring furry creatures in impossible scenarios, Kung Fu Panda drops the usual array of pop culture references for superb comedic timing and original writing. The jokes are fast, funny, and non-stop. While the story is a throwaway, this lighthearted fare as a whole is anything but.
Jack Black brings his charms and wit with him as he voices Po, a panda who loves kung fu but lacks the confidence to actually perform it (that and he’s obese). The story is the quintessential kung fu movie, where as the young unknown is found by a master who comes to believe in him.
Striking in its visual splendor, this is easily the best looking of the Dreamworks Animation efforts to date. The lighting, beautiful use of color, and texture work are nothing short of awe inspiring for any fan of CG work. This bests many of Pixar’s work. Even the opening sequence, done in a minimalistic anime style, could have worked.
Po is trained by Shifu, the wise old kung fu master. His other students called the Furious Five are sadly, in the end, wasted. Though voiced by stars such as Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogan, and Jackie Chan, there’s little time spent developing them or letting them take over the screen. Chan has maybe three lines in the entire film. They’re purely there for action figure sales. Their one fight sequence, a wonderfully done bridge brawl, leaves the audience waiting for more.
Other action sequences are equally strong. The physical comedy as Po attempts to view the kung fu event of the past 500 years is brilliantly handled. The final struggle as Po fights off the evil Tai Lung is a choreographed spectacle of fireworks, visual gags, and generally hilarious moments that let you leave the theater with a smile.
Kung Fu Panda makes itself available to a wide audience, and does so with charm. This appeals to everyone, drawing the viewer in with a likeable lead character and a drop dead gorgeous visual style. As of now, this is the best of this year’s summer movie crop only behind Iron Man.