It boasts an all-star voice-cast and one of the cutest, cuddliest animated characters that we've seen on the big screen for a while but is 'Kung Fu Panda' all hype and no substance?
Po (Black) is a giant panda who hasn't found his place in life. He works in his father's noodle bar, where his clumsiness comes against him at every turn. He dreams of becoming a Kung Fu fighter but he isn't exactly the most graceful of animals so he is never taken seriously.
The Valley of Peace, where Po and his father live, is about to come under threat. Former resident Tai Lung (McShane) has been imprisoned but he is intent on breaking free and exacting revenge on those who were once his friends and neighbours.
Kung Fu master Shifu (Hoffman), who mentored Tai Lung from an early age, must devise a plan to halt the wayward one. On his team are Tigeress (Jolie), Monkey (Chan), Viper (Liu), Mantis (Rogen) and Crane (Cross). In line with an ancient prophecy, Shifu must also chose a Dragon Warrior to protect the valley - someone who is fierce and fearless and has the ability to fight the most skilled of opponents. Enter Po, in the right place at the right time, according to him, and not up to much, according to the Furious Five in Shifu's school of Kung Fu.
Cue plenty of mishaps as Po struggles to get to grips with the training regime and finds that he isn't a born-Kung Fu artist. He meets with intolerance, negative stereotypes and finds himself a very lonely panda. But, as you would expect in such happy-ever-after kiddie movies, Po manages to come out the other side, surprising a few people along the way.
Most animated features today are cleverly layered so as to keep the adults mildly amused while the children roar laughing at the random silliness. It generally works. But 'Kung Fu Panda' has largely ignored this school of thought, opting instead for a movie that plays totally to the younger generation and thus alienates anyone over seven-years-of-age.
The voice acting is spirited and no fault can really be placed with any of the leads. Jack Black does silly well, Angelina Jolie does prim-and-proper well and Dustin Hoffman does the controlled voice of reason and patience perfectly. But actors can only work with the script that they are given.
Most importantly the element of comedy has been severely neglected here. It begs the question: how many times can you laugh at a panda falling on his ass? If you need to think about the answer then book your ticket now, but if you fear that once is once too often then volunteer to clean the house while someone else takes the kids along. (You won't regret it).
Strictly for the children.