"Kung Fu Panda" is as much fun as can be had at the movies right now, unless you have a lot of girlfriends and a shoe closet full of Jimmy Choos. At a brisk and appropriate 88 minutes, this computer-animated DreamWorks film is infectious and inspiring, despite one's best efforts to resist its charms.
Jack Black is the voice of panda Po and is the vocal embodiment of the lazy dreamer, whose character's elaborate dream life is far more exciting than his servitude with his father, running a noodle shop amid the bustle of ersatz feudal China. Po knows everything about martial arts and is immersed in its minutiae the way a batboy might know batting averages. It's all in his expansive mind. Which is supported by a structure too expansive for a sit-up.
This makes Po the perfect protagonist for what is essentially a sports movie. As a bear, he is the ugly duckling and underdog who is disparaged, dismissed and, eventually, triumphant.
Dustin Hoffman is terrific, giving a real performance as martial arts master Shifu, who is alternately wise, worldly, irritated with Po's hapless acclimation to the world of high-end kung fu and mournful over the traitorous defection to the dark side of his once prize pupil Tai Lung (Ian McShane). To deflect Tai Lung's inevitable attempt to seize the legendary Dragon Scroll, Shifu has assembled the creme de la creme of his student body, a.k.a. the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Viper (Lucy Liu). None of the supporting players brings anything to the party, though it also should be said that there's not much for them to do.
It is the "Po Show," though, the triumph of the adorable over the malevolent. As such, it is not a documentary. It is, however, a really good time.
-- John Anderson (June 6, 2008)
Contains animated martial arts action.