"Kung Fu Panda" a martial arts masterpiece

Fri May 16, 2008 3:15am EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Martial arts movies have always had a certain cartoonish element, so DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda" makes perfect sense.

Taking full advantage of Cinemascope's wide screen to splash quicker-than-the-eye action across striking Chinese landscapes, animators led by directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne deliver a movie that is as funny as it is frantic.

Although it's aimed primarily at youngsters, "Kung Fu Panda" embraces humor that plays well across age groups and nationalities. Certainly the sustained applause at its Cannes Film Festival world premiere here bodes well for international box office success. The film opens domestically on June 6.

The stroke of genius is, of course, the film's hero: the big, lovable bear that is the Chinese panda. Sweet looking, perhaps a bit clumsy, seemingly unflappable, what could be an odder hero for a kung fu movie? Transforming a panda named Po -- voiced by big, lovable Jack Black -- into a kung fu fighter to save a threatened village in ancient times is essentially the entire movie.

He does not start with a lot of promise, only a boundless enthusiasm for the discipline and a seeming inability to perform its simplest tasks. His dad, a goose named Mr. Ping (James Hong) -- that discrepancy is never clarified -- runs a noodle shop and expects his son to follow in his web steps.

But Po longs to train under Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and alongside his heroes, the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross) and Monkey (Jackie Chan). He miraculously fulfills this impossible dream when the inventor of kung fu, Oogway the turtle (Randall Duk Kim), anoints him the long-prophesied Dragon Warrior.

Comic calamities pile on top of one another until Shifu recognizes Po's true driving force: his insatiable appetite.

A bun or a cookie snatched from his grasp has Po performing feats of remarkable agility and no little ferocity. He is soon ready to face the villainous Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a snow leopard who descends on the fearful village to exact revenge his own rejection as the Dragon Warrior.   Continued...

<p>Voice actors (L to R) Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Jack Black arrive for the screening of the animated film "Kung Fu Panda" by directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 15, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>