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Kung Fu Panda,’ animated movie master

Quality filming techniques and memorable characters can make up some of the most enjoyable movies of all time. When these films turn out to be animated, the film can often be more enjoyable than expected. Last year, Pixar Animation Studios released yet another astounding animated film, “Ratatouille”. This year, they plan to do the same with a curious little robot named Wall-E. Another animation studio has always seemed to take a backseat to the Pixar hype. This year, however, with the help of a particular panda, Dreamworks Animation isn’t pulling any punches.

“Kung Fu Panda” features an all-star voice cast. In the title role voicing a panda named Po, Jack Black lends not only his voice, but his charismatic persona as well. Po, like Black, is fun-loving and full ofenergy while his own gestures are mimicked seamlessly in Po’s animation.

As a helping hand in his father’s noodle shop, Po dreams hopelessly of one day becoming a legendary warrior of kung fu, until the high master inadvertently names him as the next dragon warrior. Due to Po’s dramatic size and increased appetite, kung fu trainer Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has reluctant disbelief when he meets his new trainee.

While the majority of the film pokes fun at the panda’s size, the heart and style of a classic kung fu film is in full force. The filmmakers brilliantly take the time to capture the quick cuts and fast focusing camera zooms that have become a staple of martial arts films. Thankfully, in “Panda,” they use this technique to heighten the hilarity of our gleeful main character. We are even treated to light-hearted moments between Hoffman and Black, when his training montage becomes more believable than we expected.

As a children’s film, you would expect the voices of actors to be unknowingly dismissed by the young audience. “Kung Fu Panda” misses a step when the excessive voice casting is misunderstood even by the standpoint of the older audience. Having Hoffman and Black is a gem of interaction, but casting Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu is an obvious overkill when the short runtime reduces their lines to a transparent minimum. Lines by Seth Rogen are better served and inevitably memorable, but his voice has little connection to the character of a mantis.

The efforts of casting so many well known names is only a worthwhile tactic as long as the producers are willing to give them ample screen time. With this film, their resources could have been spent in more worthy areas. Seeing this as a fault of a film is an unnecessary critique. A-list actors or not, “Kung Fu Panda” has the perfect amount of humor and character that makes it directly relevant to both children and adults.

CRITIC’S RATING:

Three stars out of four

LETTER GRADE: B

RUNTIME: 92 min.

RATED: PG for sequences of martial arts action

VOICES: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and Seth Rogen

DIRECTOR: Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

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