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Kung Fu Panda kicks its way to US top spot amid rave reviews

Kung Fu Panda

Story by Jack Foley

KUNG Fu Panda, the latest animated adventure from DreamWorks Animation, kung fu kicked its way to the top of the American box office over the weekend (June 6-8, 2008), winning rave reviews and performing better than expected in the process.

The hilarious Jack Black comedy took an estimated $60 million during its first three days, according to distributor Paramount Pictures, beating initial forecasts.

Opinion had been divided ahead of its opening over whether an overweight panda would have enough clout to beat its main opposition, Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but panda power triumphed even though Sandler’s hairdressing comedy snipped its way to similarly above forecast opening figures.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan finds Sandler playing an Israeli commando who fakes his own death in order to try and become a New York hairdresser. It received less positive reviews, but still grossed an estimated $40 million for distributor Columbia Pictures.

Kung Fu Panda, however, confidently over-performed after winning over the hearts of critics and family viewers who were swept up by its story of a lowly noodle restaurant waiter and kung fu fanatic, named Po, who suddenly finds himself being hailed as the “Chosen One” and having to protect his city from a deadly foe.

Aside from Jack Black, the film boasts an impressive vocal cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie. It opens in the UK on July 4.

Of the American critics who raved, Newsweek wrote that Kung Fu Panda is a master [course] in cunning visual art and ultra-satisfying entertainment”, while the San Francisco Chronicle stated: “Resistance is not just futile but almost seems churlish in the black-and-white face of such cuteness. Along with some terrific voice performances and lovely animation, the adorability quotient of Kung Fu Panda buoys the film.”

The Chicago Tribune opined: “Everything about Kung Fu Panda is a little better, a little sharper, a little funnier than the animated run of the mill. It’s one of the few comedies of 2008 that knows what it’s doing.”

And Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun Times felt that “it’s elegantly drawn, the action sequences are packed with energy, and it’s short enough that older viewers will be forgiving… For the kids, of course, all this stuff is much of a muchness, and here they go again”.

The New York Times, meanwhile, wrote: “At once fuzzy-wuzzy and industrial strength, the tacky-sounding Kung Fu Panda is high concept with a heart.”

Entertainment Weekly noted: “Just about all animated movies teach you to Believe in Yourself, but the image of a face-stuffing panda-turned-yowling Bruce Lee dervish is as unlikely, and touching, an advertisement for that message as we’ve seen in quite some time.”

And The Hollywood Reporter concludes this round-up by summing up: “Though aimed primarily at youngsters, Kung Fu Panda embraces humour that plays well across age groups and nationalities.”

Watch the trailer