In an unusual twist of fate I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 before seeing this 2008 original, but even knowing where the characters would end up, I couldn’t help finding this a most predictable hero origin story. From the disgruntled experts doubting our new hero, to a third act crisis of fate, everything is so hackneyed that even the children in the audience will have the plot laid out from ten minutes in.
Kung Fu Panda brings the voice cast you’d expect from a Dreamworks animation, but aside from Jack Black as Po and Dustin Hoffman as his trainer, Master Shifu, they’re severely underused, present only to boost publicity. Having a team of five heroes is obviously great for merchandising purposes, but the film’s inability to juggle them stops characters evolving from their base animal; Snake is slithery, Monkey is acrobatic, Mantis is small, Crane can fly. The lack of development doesn’t make these characters interesting to be around.
The humour is mostly slapstick, so even though we end up getting plenty of jokes we’ve seen before, it’s refreshing when compared to Dreamworks back catalogue. However, Panda seems much more interested in its serious tones, teaching that oft repeated message of believing in yourself, over tickling the audience’s funny bone. The action scenes are equally perplexing. They may be excitingly shot, the camera whipping round expertly choreographed leaping antics, but when your film has such a ridiculous title, you expect more gratification in the laugh department.
2/5 – Bad