Kung Fu Panda

Director: John Stevenson, Mark Osborne

Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan

Rating: PG

Studio: Dreamworks

Release Date: November 8, 2008

Rating: * * * out of * * * *

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I've long been suspicious of non-Pixar CG flicks. After being burned by movies like Ice Age and The Ant Bully in the past, I've learned to be suspicious of animated extravaganzas that don't come bearing that familiar red lamp logo. Hell, I'm one of the few people who didn't get caught up in the Shrek mania that the green ogre inspired. (Although I did indulge in a box of Shrek Twinkies. That green cream filling really did it for me). Needless to say, I was apprehensive when Kung Fu Panda showed up in my mailbox. The plot description promised the story of a clumsy panda who learns to become a kung fu master with the help of a little bear voiced by Dustin Hoffman. It sounded like the kind of film they'd use as a torture device at Guantanamo Bay.

Against my better judgment, I popped the disc in and, to my surprise, enjoyed the heck out of the movie. Jack Black does a hilarious job as Po, a panda who works in a noodle shop, but dreams of being a member of the Furious Five, the most feared and respected karate gang in all of Asia. A ridiculous series of events lead to Po being selected as the Dragon Warrior and earning the opportunity to study karate under Master Shifu (Hoffman), a Yoda-like red panda who makes more of a punch than his little frame would suggest. While Po struggles to master the martial arts, a bad ass tiger named Tai Lung is plotting his revenge against the Furious Five. The fact that Tai Lung is voiced by James McShane should clue you Deadwood fans in on how awesome the character truly is.

Admittedly, the flick is predictable and bears the same "Be who you are" moral that every other kid flick has, but damn if it isn't entertaining. The animation is sharp and colorful (looked great on my new flat screen) and the sound is on point. Still, Jackie Chan is wasted as a simian kung fu master named Monkey, as are Angelina Jolie and Lucy Liu, who play Tigress and Viper, respectively. Why cast two of the world's most beautiful women in your film if you're not going to show their faces? Leave the voice over work to the ladies who have a face for it. Nevertheless, the film is not only funny, but possibly the best non-Pixar computer animated flick to be released in years.—JR Scott