Families still reeling from the disaster that was “Speed Racer” rejoice - “Kung Fu Panda” is the first summer film sure to entertain the entire clan. This is a charming film, full of wit and character that makes it a worthy addition to the Dreamworks library of films that includes “Shrek” and “Madagascar.”
“Kung Fu” tells the story of Po (voiced by Jack Black), a slacker Panda working in his family’s noodle shop who dreams of studying Kung Fu alongside his idols, the legendary Furious Five: Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey.
Po’s dreams become a reality when the treacherous snow leopard Tai Lung escapes - and it turns out Po is the only one capable of saving the city from Lung’s evil grip.
Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger’s screenplay takes a pretty simplistic story and expands it into a film full of enchantment and wonder. It’s clear that the writers have a love for the martial arts genre and their knowledge adds to the cleverness of “Panda.”
This is a film full of self-awareness, but the humor is more within the bounds of the film instead of films like “Shrek,” which relies on pop culture references for most of its laughs.
“Panda” also benefits from a first-rate cast.
Black is the perfect choice for Po, using his strengths as a comedian and making the panda a lovable and quite endearing character.
Dustin Hoffman has nice moments as Shifu, the Furious Five’s mentor, while Angelina Jolie as Tigress and Jackie Chan as Monkey are welcome additions in their respective roles.
The film looks great, too, using a cinemascope landscape to capture this ancient land.
“Kung Fu Panda” isn’t quite up to speed with recent animated films like “Ratatouille” or “The Incredibles,” but it is still a cut above any other family film released in 2008.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “The Bucket List” (B), a rather sappy comedy-drama from director Rob Reiner that works largely due to its two high-powered leads, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
Nicholson and Freeman play Edward and Carter, two terminally ill men who form an unlikely friendship and head off on a road trip to complete a list of things they’d like to do before they die.
In the process of completing the list, Edward and Carter learn to deal with their impending death and ultimately find the joy that has been missing in their respective lies.
“The Bucket List,” from a story written by Justin Zackham, sounds like something that would be relegated to the Lifetime Movie Network. Still, I found myself drawn into the material, mainly because of Nicholson and Freeman. This is a film that could have easily been overbearing if it weren’t for the ability of its two leads.
Nicholson doesn’t deliver one of those completely over-the-top performances that he has been known for in the twilight of his career. Instead he proves to be the perfect match for Freeman’s smooth and comforting turn as a man wrestling with the realization that his life is almost over.
“The Bucket List” is far from a great movie, but it is a great opportunity to watch a pair of great actors at the top of their game.
“The Bucket List” is rated PG-13 for language, including a sexual reference, and is now available on DVD.
— Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton, who’s own star turn as the voice of Sing-Tao the Fighting Hippo was cut from the final version of “Kung Fu Panda,” can be reached by e-mailing email@example.com.