Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
To date, Dreamworks Animation Studios has been characterized by creating films that rely on pop culture references, crass humor, sloppy animation and other than for the green ogre, haven't come up with a real icon to represent them.
"Kung Fu Panda" might be the closest thing they've come so far to creating animation that won't feel irrelevant ten years from now.
Set in a magical Chinese valley it tells the story of Po, a chubby Panda who works in his adoptive father's noodle restaurant. While Po dreams of one day becoming a great kung fu master, his hopes are often shattered by others' misconceptions and his own self esteem which has convinced him that someone with his weight will never succeed.
Things change after tortoise Master Oogway has a premonition revealing that the evil snow leopard Tai Lung will escape prison and return to seek revenge in the valley. The only one able to stop him will be the mysterious Dragon Warrior, a legendary savior whose identity is yet to be revealed.
On the day of the ceremony, the Furious Five - Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Sanke and Crane - a group of brilliant kung fu artists trained by master Shifu, are sure that one of them will be chosen, but to their surprise, and in what becomes one of the film's first attempts at philosophical depth, it's Po who gets chosen as the Dragon Warrior.
After this the plot turns into a rehash of "The Karate Kid" by way of "Hero" as Po must rise to the ocassion and fulfill his destiny.
Briskly paced and with a simple, sweethearted sense of humor, "Kung Fu Panda" shines because of how unpretentious it is. The characters aren't really that memorable, except for the panda who is built as someone we can't help but root for, which in a sense is all the movie really needed to work.
The animation is often breathtaking, especially in the stylized action scenes which seem to defy gravity, but other than this practically nothing else is challenged by the filmmakers.
In a way "Kung Fu Panda" is best described as its main character: something that shouldn't really work, but when it does stil feels as if it's missing something.