With 2008's KUNG FU PANDA, the talking-animal CGI film enters a new era, one that makes room for both painterly artwork and fierce martial-arts action. Po (voiced by Jack Black), a clumsy and ever-hungry panda, is a huge kung fu fan, but seems destined to sell noodles like his father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), who inexplicably happens to be a goose. When Po literally crashes a ceremony involving martial-arts masters Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) and their pupils, the Furious Five--which includes Tigress (Angelina Jolie, in a surprisingly small part) and Crane (David Cross)--he ends up being selected by the latter elder as the revered Dragon Warrior. As the skeptical Shifu reluctantly trains the hapless Po, his former star pupil, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), escapes from a high-security prison, setting up a collision course between the bumbling bear and the powerful villain.
One of the finest animated films released under the Dreamworks banner, KUNG FU PANDA deftly avoids many of the pitfalls of the genre (i.e. cheesy musical sequences), juggling action, heart, and humor in a highly entertaining way. While Black (in endearingly restrained mode), Hoffman, Kim, and McShane voice their characters with verve, the real stars of PANDA are directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson and their animators, who lovingly depict ornate Chinese chambers and vast mountainous vistas, as well as blazing kung fu battles. A movie with remarkably wide appeal, KUNG FU PANDA delivers on its quirky, high-concept title with gleeful aplomb.
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