Kung Fu Panda

I’ve said it before, possibly even on this blog, but I think kids’ films are the hardest to review. Even if the film is sentimental tripe, kids everywhere are going to love it (even if they shouldn’t), and well, I feel a little bad about bashing something that little ones get so much enjoyment from (even if the film totally deserves a good bashing).

Fortunately, “Kung Fu Panda,” directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, isn’t that bad, but it’s still not great.

Enter Po (voiced by Jack Black), a panda who works in a noodle shop and dreams of joining the Furious Five, an elite fighting squadron that protects their village from baddies.

And the protection is badly needed; some years ago, Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane) wrecked havoc on the world, and while he’s been in prison since then, Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) has a vision that the notorious criminal will soon be free (and we know how that always works out).

With the imminent threat of Tai Lung’s return, Oogway and Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) decide to choose the next Dragon Warrior, the only one who can defeat Tai Lung; guess who gets picked?

Po now has his dream job, but he’s still a panda, overweight and not really built to be the kung fu master that he wants to be, but he keeps trying, to the consternation of his new teammates and his teachers.

It’s a solid setup, fun and entertaining, and the film is smart enough to make Po’s fanboy tendencies endearing and not annoying, but while the setup is good, the rest of the movie flails.

“Kung Fu Panda” might be a movie that comes down to taste; there are lots of people in the world who get into action films, but I’m not one of them. I don’t mind fight scenes, and if they’re handled well, I can really enjoy them, but just watching (seemingly) endless stretches of training exercises does not make a good movie. Yes, the animation is fantastic, the moves defy logic and look really cool, but still, me=bored.

“Kung Fu Panda” also falls into another action movie trap: too many characters. Po and Shifu are the central characters, and they’re fleshed out pretty well, but everyone gets a name and…that’s it. Other than the character’s shape, there is no way to differentiate one Furious Five member from the other, and there is no need to do so either. They look cool in a fight scene, and that’s all that’s needed from them.

A smaller cast, a tighter script and I really could have loved this movie. As is, it’s a near miss, not bad but nothing special either.

“Kung Fu Panda” (2008)

Written  by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger  

Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

Starring: Jack Black (Po)

Dustin Hoffman (Shifu)

Ian McShane (Tai Lung)

Randall Duk Kim (Oogway)