Jack Black voices Po the Panda in the computer animated Kung Fu Panda, which kicked its way to the fifth highest box office opening for an animated film ever last weekend. Po doesn’t fit into the restaurant world his father, voiced by James Hong, has envisioned for him. Po talks a lot, producing catch phrases like “awesomeness” and “scadoosh”, but inside he want to feed his kung fu heart and defeat evil forces. Black narrates the beginning sequence for some big laughs, setting the tone for controlled fun-filled with knowledge gems and life lessons.
Dustin Hoffman voices the next prominent character, Shifu, kung fu master and teacher of the Furious Five, Po’s idols. Once Po falls into Shifu‘s lap, both characters go through an admirable transformation. “If anyone could make me not like me, it’s you,” Po tells Shifu.
Hoffman’s superb voice work makes him the ideal choice for a sensei. He connects emotionally on several occasions with a mix of soft undertones, forceful commands, and deadpan humor (you can even visualize his expressionless face upon delivery, which improves the already funny jokes).
Shifu’s master, named Oogway, is a turtle well voiced by Randall Duk Kim who played “The Keymaker“ in the Matrix Reloaded. As you might expect, when the wise Oogway talks, people listen. The interesting developments come when characters don’t agree with what Oogway says.
Angelina Jolie reduces the sultry tones in her voice to embody Tigress, the unofficial head of the group. Seth Rogen gets yet another voice acting opportunity, this time as the small but mighty Mantis while martial arts expert extraordinaire Jackie Chan voices Monkey. Rogen and Chan have a surprisingly low amount of dialogue considering their star power, but the movie still entertains well. Lucy Liu voices Viper and rounding out the five is comedian David Cross as Crane.
Michael Clarke Duncan provides his unique voice as a rhinoceros prison warden charged with keeping the antagonist, Tai Lung, voiced by Ian McShane, locked up so the community remains peaceful. A messenger, voiced by Dan Fogler, changes Tai Lung’s fate while the fairly predictable story progresses quickly. The story has some nice life lessons about teamwork, plus deeper themes like the illusion of control and finding yourself for who you are.
King of the Hill television series writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger pack so much entertainment into a brisk 88 minute running time. The jokes are not overdone (e.g. the urn of 500 whispering warriors) and the memorable ending scene between Po and Shifu celebrates their characters. Some of the jokes regarding Po’s physical state seem a bit mean-spirited, but by the end it yields positive and purposeful results.
Excellent production values include contrasting lighting and shaking camera effects. Filmmakers also create a memorable prison break scene while composers Hans Zimmer and John Powell team up for a memorable music score. You don’t have to be a martial arts fan to enjoy this comedy, though the battles impress and the standard clichés, like the all-powerful Wu Shu finger hold, delight. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG for martial arts action violence.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler