Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Rating: C

Dir: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Star (voice): Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Randall Duk Kim

Disappointing. That’s probably the best way I can sum this up, with a storyline thrashed from a million kung fu movie cliches. A central character who dreams of being a hero, but is singularly unsuited to the role; yet fate gives him the opportunity, so he must seize the chance, confront his fears, overcome adversity, kick the ass of the bad get, and on and on and on. Apart from the fact that these are animals, such the hero Po (Black), who’s a panda, there’s nothing at all we haven’t seen a million times before, in live-action movies – heck, twenty years ago, it coul have starred Samo Hung and they wouldn’t even have need to change the title.

But what animated kung fu does, is completely destroy the central wonder of martial arts: seeing human beings doing things, of which no human being should be capable. Whether that’s Bruce Lee’s fists of fury, Jet Li taking on a hundred opponents in expertly-choreographed mayhem, Michelle Yeoh’s balletic grace or Jackie Chan’s indestructibility, it’s something that no cartoon can ever hope to reproduce, no matter how sumptuously drawn – or, in this case, rendered. It’s a fatal misstep, from which the movie never recovers. For every step forward, there’s one backwards. It makes sense to have the various styles of kung fu portrayed by the appropriate animals, but the oh-so famous voices behind them are no more than stunt casting, never given character, or serving any individual point.

Occasionally, it does break through,, such as a lovely battle between Po and his master over the last dumpling, which manages to be engaging, humourous and breath-taking at the same time. Meanwhile, the villainous Tai Lung (McShane) is heading towards them, bent on showing that he, not Po, should be the one to learn the secret of the Dragon Warrior – which, inevitably, is the sort of thing you would normally find in a fortune cookie. As a homage to martial arts movies, its heart is certainly in the right place, but when you compare it to the other animated blockbuster of the year, Wall-E, there is absolutely no contest. Panda is bear-ly even in the same league.