Starring: (voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Mark Osborne (TV’s “SpongeBob Squarepants”) and John Stevenson (TV’s “Father of the Pride”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (TV’s “King of the Hill”) and Glenn Berger (TV’s “King of the Hill”)
Let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to recognizing the leader in animated feature films. Although Japanese anime like “Spirited Away,” has been a strong contender for the last few years, very few others can hold their own against Pixar Animation (DreamWorks Animation with their “Shrek” trilogy would beg to differ).
Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a category to honor animated features in 2002, Pixar has won three out of the seven years and been nominated a total of five times (“Monster Inc.” and “Cars” failed to win during their respected years against “Shrek” and “Happy Feet”).
Leave it up to DreamWorks to revisit the fat, loveable character-driven underdog story to return them to grace after not so great showings with “Bee Movie” and “Shrek the Third.” In “Kung Fu Panda,” the animation company proves that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on the industry (even though deep down they are all really scared about how groundbreaking “WALL-E” might be later this year).
“Kung Fu Panda” tells the story of a lazy panda bear named Po (Jack Black) who would rather learn the secrets of his favorite kung fu masters than sell noodles with his loosey-goosey father.
Po gets his chance when Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a wise, old tortoise choose him to fulfill an ancient prophecy over a group of real animal warriors known as the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). This happens much to the chagrin of their kung fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who doesn’t understand why Oogway has chosen Po to protect them.
With the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) looking for revenge against the village, there is no time to waste training a fat, uncoordinated panda bear to fight a vengeful kung fu expert. Or is there?
The great work with “Kung Fu Panda” starts where it should with perfectly cast voice work by Black, Hoffman, and Kim. The humor ranges from flavorful jokes for adults and silly slapstick humor that doesn’t go overboard for kids. To top it off, animators pay special attention to the action and fighting sequences, which are high on energy and detail (the slow-motion animation is especially brilliant). “Kung Fu Panda” is a smart and funny homage to martial arts classics of the past and is the best animated feature so far this year and Po is definitely a character you can cheer for.