Be prepared for fun and much Panda-monium

PUBLISHED: 17:37 09 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:12 07 September 2010

Kung fu panda (PG) Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson Featuring the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan 92 mins Four star rating BY MICHAEL JOYCE Sometimes a film comes along that no matter how many go

Kung fu panda (PG)

Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

Featuring the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan

92 mins

Four star rating

BY MICHAEL JOYCE

Sometimes a film comes along that no matter how many good things are said about it, it's impossible to imagine how it could be any good.

In theory, Dreamworks' new animation picture Kung Fu Panda just seemed like another spiritless animated purse grab, like A Shark's Tale. In practice, it's one of the best perfectly realised pieces of commercial film making I've seen all year.

Set in a China populated entirely by talking animals, it tells a bog standard martial arts tale of wise old masters and brash young apprentices who become enlightened when evil threatens their homeland. An animated tale of good against evil and an ancient skill being passed down through the generations that's great fun but done with enough sincerity that you care about the outcome - this is what the Star Wars prequels should've been like.

Pu (Black) is the humble noodle cook who has an obsession with all things Kung Fu, especially the master fighting team Furious Five.

When the wise ancient turtle Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) chooses him as the next Dragon Warrior charged with defending the valley from the vengeful Tai Lung (McShane) he gets to hang out with his heroes.

But they don't take to this overweight panda and his total lack of ability; even his teacher Shifu (Hoffman) can't believe he can become the Dragon Warrior.

Prior to this the only Jack Black film I had been interested in seeing was a grovelling

feature-length apology for his performance in King Kong. On reflection I'll take this. If only he could be animated in every film - it blocks out the neediness and just leaves you with the talent. It's not just a famous voice coming out of an animated mouth, this is as much a Jack Black performance as School of Rock or Shallow Hal.

The animation and settings are routinely stunning and both the comedy and the action are done with expert timing. There's not a wasted frame in the film and nothing that feels contrived or motivated by Burger King tie-in possibilities. In fact, along with Shrek and Wallace and Gromit, this is Dreamworks' best ever animated feature by far.Hollywood's dealings with Asia have scarcely been more sophisticated than that of its Presidents. If it's not Bush senior vomiting over his host in Tokyo or mixing up Taiwan with China, it's Hollywood getting Jackie Chan (a global star of such proportion he makes most Hollywood stars look like first week Big Brother evictees) over and making him a sidekick to Chris Tucker, three times.

The Forbidden Kingdom is really just a matter of how much they will mess it up and the answer is, not too badly. The plot has a modern kid from Boston being transported back to ancient China to go on a quest with Jackie and Jet and the kid (Angarano) is really not at all annoying. He knows that he is there as an expediency and mostly keeps out of the way.

Of course we're only here for the punch ups and they're competent but nothing we haven't seen before. Jackie revisits the drunken master role that made him famous and to be honest his drunk acting would barely pass muster in a Comic Relief sketch but he's Jackie Chan and he has this innate likeability that means it doesn't matter.

Jet Li tends to be seen as the opposite of Chan's free-styling clown. He's never made much impact in Hollywood (he said no to a role in the Matrix sequels but yes to next month's Mummy 3) possibly because he comes across as a bit of a dull old stick, taking it all a bit too seriously. But he gets two roles here and, in the second, the Monkey King, he really lets himself go and displays an infectious sense of fun.

They're both knocking on a bit. Chan's in his mid 50s and those do all your own stunts claims seem stretched here. Even so, it's a shame to see these two old masters finally get together only to be smothered in a bath of CGIs.

This is the second child friendly Kung Fu movie in two weeks and much as I loved that Panda, it's something of a redundant notion. The kid in the film, like any teenager, is obsessed with X rated Kung Fu films; I can't imagine he'd have any truck with this training wheeled introduction.

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