KUNG FU PANDA (John Stevenson, Mark Osborne). 91 minutes. Opens Friday (June 6). For venues and times, see Movies, page 96. Rating: NNNN
Kung Fu Panda is much, much, much better than DreamWorks’ year-long marketing campaign would have you believe.
It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s visually sumptuous – I’d even go so far as to call it the first non-Pixar effort to approach that studio’s standard for fully imagined characters and environments. And, yes, it’s about a panda who learns to do a scissor kick.
Set in a funny-animal universe that’s otherwise identical to the great 1970s Shaw Brothers productions, it’s the story of a panda named Po (voiced by Jack Black) who indulges in elaborate chop-socky fantasies when he really ought to be helping his father run their noodle shop.
When Po finds himself named as the Dragon Warrior, a legendary figure who will save his village from the merciless snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), he meets hostility from the skeptical Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, Shatneriffic) and his disciples, the Furious Five, who can’t believe they’ve been tasked with training one of their groupies.
It’s quite amazing how well DreamWorks Animation’s usual just-be-yourself lessons suit the kung-fu genre, and when you throw in the spectacular imagery and charmingly anthropomorphic character design, you’ve got yourself a movie.
Also, any film in which James Hong plays a kindly, noodle-obsessed duck is some kind of instant classic.