Shinn review: Kung Fu Panda a summer hit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

‘Kung Fu Panda’
Rated: PG (for sequences of martial arts action)
Running length: 1 hr., 35 min.
Voices by: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Ian McShane, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, David Cross and Seth Rogen
Rating: 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Indiana Jones has finally been conquered ó by a roly-poly panda.
I thought Harrison Ford’s newest flick would be the blockbuster to beat this summer. Turns out I was wrong.
I absolutely loved “Kung Fu Panda.”
For those of you who don’t have kids 12 and under, “Kung Fu Panda” is the movie starring Jack Black in the title role, with a terrific supporting cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross and Seth Rogen.
I suppose Po is like a lot of folks ó stuck in one job, in the family business, no less ó while yearning for something else.
Po works for his dad (James Hong) in a noodle shop.
(A goose? This was never explained. Was Po adopted? Was his mother a panda? I was so confused! But, I digress …)
It’s Mr. Ping’s fondest dream that Po will one day take over for him ó and he’ll even build him a new restaurant where he can stand to his full panda height.
Yet Po’s heart is elsewhere ó in the land of kung fu, to be exact.
What better place to practice kung fu than in China, the birthplace of this popular martial art?
Only problem is, Po is, well, overweight and out of shape.
But he knows in his heart he could be a master.
By crazy happenstance, he gets his wish when he’s chosen by the wise old turtle Oogway (Randal Duk Kim) to be the next Dragon Master.
By default, he becomes the newest member of the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu).
They’re led by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) ó who, I’ve learned since seeing the movie, is a rare red panda. Who knew?
Shifu is a stern disciplinarian. His heart was broken when his brightest pupil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) turned to the dark side, if you will. He’s not interested in anyone else, especially Tigress, although she clearly wants to please him above any other.
I was surprised at how low and gravely Hoffman’s voice has become over the years. It’s the perfect match for the weary master.
If Hoffman provides the movie’s soul, then Black is the comedic relief.
Still, Black always surprises you with the depth he brings to his roles, and even that of a big, furry bear is no exception.
The magic-makers at DreamWorks have captured Black perfectly as an animated character. He’s one of those folks that you can simply look at and laugh; Po is the same way.
Bless his heart, he tries, but he really is like a bull ó um, panda ó in a china shop.
It doesn’t help that the Furious Five couldn’t care less for him.
I kinda wish the Five would’ve gotten more lines ó Jolie especially seems wasted here ó but heck, there are five of ’em.
Slowly, he wins them over, just in time for them all to fight their arch nemesis Tai Lung, played with eery evilness by Ian McShane.
Visually, this movie is breathtaking, whether focusing on a still pool beneath a curving bridge or a scattering of peach blossoms being carried by the wind.
Bold opening and closing credits in black and red provide a different, but still appropriate, flavor of ancient China.
These days, I’m all about movies with good messages, and what better message is there to believe in yourself and follow your dreams, even if you aren’t an archaeologist but instead a cuddly, bumbling panda?
Po’s definitely the master of the summer movie season.Great bonus: The fantastic remake of “Kung Fu Fighting” by Jack Black and Cee-Lo.
Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or