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</script></div>{/googleAds}As expected, there are noble lessons to be learned from watching Kung Fu Panda. "Be your own hero", "don't look outside for answers", and "your weaknesses can be your greatest strengths" are common themes that run though nearly every animated movie nowadays. They are the heart and soul of these digital spectacles and are what ground them in a human reality. But one thing Kung Fu Panda has that most animated features don't is the voice talent of Jack Black. As the loveable, huggable titular bruin, Black is the heart and soul of the comedic engine that drives this pleasantly entertaining little piece of joy.

We know Black's larger-than-life personality and musical roots suit him well for the swim he's had through the assortment of stoner flicks and Rock n' Roll send-ups, which have made him a household name. But his verbal idiosyncrasies and physical mannerisms are captured perfectly by writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. The filmmakers, including directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, realized that animated features are perfect for the animated comedian with the doughboy physique - so here, they wind him up and let him go. As a result, he carries the entire film's 90 minutes on his broad furry shoulders. As Eddie Murphy became the go-to voicer during the '90s, it's now Black's turn.

Kung Fu PandaNot to be upstaged however, the animators turn in an outstanding performance here as well. The film opens with strikingly colorful but flatly drawn animations that resemble period Chinese watercolor, then shifts into a more modern style that represents some of the finest animation Dreamworks has ever done. Nearly every hair on Po, our hero bear's body, moves independently of each other and the Chinese vistas are truly breathtaking. One wonders how these technical artisans manage to outdo themselves with each subsequent release, but Kung Fu Panda is a perfect example of how it's done.

The film tells the story of Po, an over-stuffed panda working in his father's noodle shop who dreams of one day becoming a legendary kung fu hero. But heroism won't come easy for the lazy bear. While his heart's in the right place, unfortunately his stomach may become his worst enemy. While the limit of his martial arts skills might be lifting his arm over head, he refuses to let that stop him when he's chosen by a wise old tortoise, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), as the village's long prophesied Dragon Warrior who must save them from the wrath of Tai Lung (Ian McShane), who recently escaped from a local prison.

At this point, the plot begins to follow the oft-furrowed path of many a kung fu film and nearly every sports drama for that matter when the hapless Po begins training under the tutelage of pint-sized kung fu master Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman. Po is the incapable underdog who fails at nearly everything despite the best efforts of his frustrated instructor. But a brilliantly animated sequence involving Po and Shifu fighting on stilts over a Chinese dumpling, actually brings something new and invigorating to the well-worn and quite frankly, boring over-choreographed kung fu fighting scene. Whereas in live-action chop-sockies, these sequences often involve impossible stunts and tons of wire-work that push the bounds of plausibility, the way it's handled here is very amusing and extremely funny.

Training alongside Po, and demonstrating a healthy amount of resentment for being overlooked during the selection of the Dragon Warrior, are the legendary Furious Five who represent the five fighting styles of kung fu tigress (Angelina Jolie), mantis (Seth Rogen), viper (Lucy Liu), crane (David Cross), and monkey (Jackie Chan). Every role here is wasted with the closest semblance of anything worthwhile coming from Jolie's tigress. The millions spent on these heavyweights might as well have been thrown down the toilet. No-names could have been used for characters that utter nothing more than animal noises.

It'd be easy to shrug off Kung Fu Panda as a babysitter film to help kill a couple of hours with the restless out-of-schoolers. But the reality is that everyone will walk away completely satisfied with a film that is not only beautifully rendered, but downright hilarious to boot.

Component Grades
3 Stars
4 stars
DVD Experience
3.5 stars


DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.85:1

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese.

Language and Sound: Closed Captioned; English: Dolby True HD; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; Meet the Cast; The Tech of Kung Fu Panda; additional featurettes.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with cinematographer Scott Kevan and writer/director/star Larry Bishop.
* Featurettes
o Dragon Warrior Training Academy
o Food Network Exclusive: Alton Brown at Mr. Ping's Noodle House
o "Kung Fu Fighting" Music Video
o How to Use Chopsticks
o Help Save The Wild Pandas

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging