Kung Fu Panda

“Get ready to feel the thunda!”

“Kung Fu Panda” is certainly not the worst animated film released by DreamWorks Animation so far, but it proves yet again that it’s about time to cage the talking animals and come up with something more creative. The film boasts a gorgeous look and a handful of spectacular action sequences, but its main story line is anything but awesome.

Jack Black provides the voice for title character Po, a fat and lazy panda who’s the biggest fan of kung fu and wishes he could master the martial art himself. But instead, he spends his days helping his dad run a noodle shop. Then one day, in a twist of fate, Po is designated as the legendary Dragon Warrior, who must fulfill an ancient prophecy and protect his village from the treacherous and ruthless snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane).

What follows is an intense and at times seemingly hopeless training program, during which master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tries his best to teach Po the basics of kung fu. Alas, no one seems to believe in his ability to pull it off, not even his very own idols Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Mantis (Seth Rogen), a team of legendary fighters known as the Furious Five. But as clumsy as he is, the panda won’t quit until the task is completed.

“Kung Fu Panda” is based on quite an original idea, but the script by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger is just too simplistic and a little too weak to impress audiences. The story is pretty standard, following a sluggish panda on his bumpy journey to self-discovery. The film’s longest part, the training with Shifu, features all the familiar dialogue about having to believe in oneself in order to achieve great things. Believe in hope and turn your weaknesses into strengths; that’s one of the basic messages we take home from this.

Because this is a kids’ film, rehashing old thematic is certainly acceptable, but you would expect screenwriters to inject their scripts with new energy. That’s exactly what’s missing in “Panda.” Fortunately, the movie’s short running time comes as a big advantage, because most of the jokes outside the action fall flat and barely provoke a laugh. There were plenty of kids at the screening I attended, but it stayed rather quiet throughout, and I only heard a few giggles.

On a more positive note, the few action scenes in the flick are awesome and about the only inventive aspect you’ll find here. The kung fu looks great and is fast-paced, and a quick training battle between Shifu and Po over a single dumpling is memorable indeed. The film also boasts a magnificent look, and the animation is top-notch. There’s plenty of detail to enjoy in the figures and their surroundings, and the colors are smashing. Too bad the script fails to live up to first-class technical aspects.

Providing Po with his hilarious voice and injecting his character with great energy, Jack Black clearly carries the film on his shoulders. The other talents are totally wasted. Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen and Jackie Chan barely open their mouths, and I’m beginning to think they’ve just been cast for marketing purposes. Dustin Hoffman is the only one with more than three sentences in the role as Shifu, but he doesn’t really stand out either.

“Kung Fu Panda” features some great action, but in moderate quantity. Although the script is shallow, the great animation makes the film a lot better than previous DreamWorks Animation losers “Over the Hedge” and “Shark Tale.” It’s even slightly more sophisticated than “Bee Movie.” Anyway, now we can all quickly forget about the panda and look forward to the little, cute robot in Pixar’s “Wall-E.” At least they don’t always give us talking animals. Now that’s awesome!

Review by Franck Tabouring