Kung Fu Panda (2008)

(In theaters, June 2008) Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this film is what’s missing from it: Pop-culture references. As PDI/Dreamworks progresses beyond the Shrek franchise, its animated films are becoming more universal and less rooted in their own place and time. Kung Fu Panda isn’t there yet (the first few moments of Jack Black’s “Awesome!”-heavy dialog are jarring), but it’s an improvement over past PDI films, and the result is generally pleasant. The script includes quite a few nods to fanboy wish-fulfillment (much like the recent The Forbidden Kingdom, this film proves that kung-fu has now reached referential mainstream consciousness) and if Black’s deliberately-irritating shtick as a lovable doofus is starting to wear thin, there are a few good moments in this film. Sadly, the film focuses too much on the titular panda and not enough on the other characters, some of whom are stunt-cast with famous voices… that barely get more than five lines and twice as many grunts. (Seriously: did Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan spend more than half a day in the studio?) The best sequences involve training-by-dumplings, a prison escape, a fabulous-five bridge fight and a final brawl that leave no buildings unscathed. In the background, the quality of the CGI is spectacular enough to pass unnoticed. Not that the film will pause long enough to let anyone appreciate the scenery. Kung Fu Panda may be too blunt and simple to be transcendent like Pixar’s features, but it’s good enough for lazy summer evenings.

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