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Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

NO MATTER how hard they try, DreamWorks Animation has consistently struggled to match the brilliance of standard bearers Pixar in overall enjoyability… until now.

Kung Fu Panda – much like the original Shrek – is a high-flying success that succeeds as a crowd-pleasing romp. What’s more, it does so by embracing traditional values.

Whereas previous DreamWorks offerings such as Bee Movie and A Shark Tale have existed on a clever-clever approach that’s marred by in-jokes and pop culture references, this martial arts spectacular is based around a simple story and some genuinely endearing characters – not to mention a first-rate cast.

The film follows the adventures of Po the Panda (voiced by Jack Black), a lowly waiter in a noodle restaurant, who is a kung fu fanatic in spite of his overweight physique.

When Po is unexpectedly named as the “Chosen One” to fulfil a prophecy and save his people, it’s up to a group of martial arts masters led by little red panda Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to get him ready to face the formidable threat posed by vengeful former apprentice Tai Lung (Ian McShane).

From its colourful opening sequence featuring a martial arts homage to past movie classics, Kung Fu Panda barely puts a foot wrong in its quest to entertan.

The characters, almost without exception, are well defined and genuinely sympathetic, while the set pieces combine authentic kung fu action with laugh out loud comedy. It’s a measure of the film’s success that audiences will care about the outcome, while even feeling a little sad along the way.

Part of this is due to the brilliance of the animation, which creates a vivid backdrop for the characters to exist, but a lot of praise must also go to the voice cast, who clearly enjoy bringing their characters to life.

Black, in particular, combines perfect comic timing with an endearing vulnerability that’s easy to warm to, while Hoffman is excellent as the wise, but continually frustrated Shifu. McShane’s distinct voice brings plenty of menace to the role of arch-villain Tai Lung, while there’s strong vocal support from the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen as various other characters.

The jokes, too, are funny without being rude or mean-spirited – meaning that viewers of all ages can laugh along without feeling guilty.

And while the some of the action may be a little too intense for the youngest members of the audience, it all feels appropriate within the context of the story that refuses to become too preachy or sentimental.

With Kung Fu Panda DreamWorks – and co-directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson in particular – have created an instant classic that’s destined to enthral viewers of all ages for many years to come.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 90mins
UK DVD Release: November 17, 2008