Jack Black as Clumsy Panda Bear in Charming Animated Adventure
Po (Jack Black) is a clumsy panda who works in his family’s noodle shop in an idyllic oasis known as the Valley of Peace. Instead of concentrating on customers, the young Kung Fu fan always seems to be distracted by dreams of studying martial arts alongside the Furious Five, a legendary quintet comprised of the Tigress (Angelina Jolie), the Crane (David Cross), the Praying Mantis (Seth Rogen), the Viper (Lucy Liu) and the Monkey (Jackie Chan). However, he’s so uncoordinated that he’s too embarrassed to share his secret desire with his father (James Hong) who reasonably expects his son to take over the restaurant when he retires.
This all changes the day elderly Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a sage sensei, has an eerie premonition about Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a former protege of his gone bad. He has a hunch that the treacherous leopard has escaped from prison after 20 years behind bars, and that he’s head back to the region with revenge in mind.
So, in accordance with an ancient Chinese prophecy, Oogway stages a formal ceremony to name a Dragon Warrior to defend the kingdom. Everyone expects him to pick from among the Furious Five, but a comedy of errors leads to his settling on Po, a late-arriving spectator who makes an attention-grabbing entrance.
Now afforded an opportunity to prove himself worthy, the second act of this action-oriented cartoon revolves around Po’s being whipped into shape for the big showdown by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). If you’re at all familiar with the overcoming the odds fight genre, you know exactly what’s involved, a rigorous regimen featuring trademark tableaus ranging from Rocky’s one-handed pushups to The Karate Kid’s balancing himself on one foot.
Like a cross of Mickey and Mister Miyagi, Shifu employs reverse psychology, telling Po he’s nothing but a lazy bum who’ll never amount to anything, while mixing in trite fortune cookie philosophy like “There are no accidents!” for good measure. As for the third act, Tai Lung does indeed arrive, but far be it from me to spoil the events of the ensuing battle royal.
An animated cross of Rocky and The Karate Kid certain to delight this generation of tykes afresh.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for martial arts action.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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