Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan
Written by: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, based on a story by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Directed by: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of martial arts action
Running Time: 88
Date: 05/15/2008

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bear Slugs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a series of animated features ranging from dull to dismal (the Shrek series, Madagascar, Flushed Away, etc.), Dreamworks cooks up their first good film since Antz (1998). Additionally, Kung Fu Panda puts most other recent action movies to shame with its astonishingly beautiful, fluid, fast, clean use of movement and space. It's truly dazzling. The story isn't anything special: Po (voiced by Jack Black) works with his father in a noodle shop but dreams of being a martial arts star like the famed Furious Five. The Five consist of: Crane (voiced by David Cross), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen), Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan) and the brooding Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie). Their master is the diminutive, but potent Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman). The time has come for Shifu's master, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), to choose the Dragon Warrior, but instead of selecting one of these highly trained stars, he somehow chooses the buffoonish, overeating Po. Even worse, the very powerful, very evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) has just escaped prison and is coming to snatch the secret Dragon Scroll. Along the way, Po must learn to be himself, etc. The film attempts some harmless jokes from time to time, and some of them are worth a grin, if not an all-out chuckle. (Happily, there are very few crude jokes.) That's all well and good, but it's thrilling to watch this film move with such grace and energy. Having just viewed the poor Quantum of Solace a few weeks ago, this achievement seems even more miraculous. I wish the makers of that film had seen this one in advance for some useful pointers.

DVD Details: Dreamworks' DVD comes with lots of featurettes (one is about noodles and another on how to use chopsticks), a "set-top" game, trailers, a music video, a director's commentary track, and other stuff. It's a very good-looking and pleasing package. Fans wishing to pay a little extra can get a second disc, including the 24-minute short Secrets of the Furious Five. In this mix of hand-drawn and computer animation, Po teaches a beginners class about the origins of the Furious Five (though the voice cast does not reprise their roles). This second disc also comes with a bunch of extras.

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