It must be nice to not only have the talent to be a powerful comedic presence on screen but also having the vocal skills to do the same with a cartoon. Not every actor out there can say that. Some of their acts may not translate well to animation because you would need to see their antics as well. Actually, Carrottop is the only one that immediately comes to mind that would fall into that category and that's probably not the best example. Nevertheless, Jack Black is one who's distinctive voice lends itself well to cartoons so getting the lead in "Kung Fu Panda" seemed to be pretty ideal.
On the surface, Po (voiced by Black) may look like just another portly panda bear; however, beneath the fur, he longs for so much more. By day, he faithfully works in his family's noodle shop, but by night, he dreams of becoming a true master of the martial arts. Thanks to Po being at the right place at the right time (even if it was entirely accidental), he has become part of an ancient prophecy come to pass where he is the only one who can save his people from certain destruction.
With time running short and the spurned snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) closing in, wise sensei Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) must try his best to transform the lumbering panda into a fighting machine. Neither the sensei nor his other disciples known as the Furious Five are completely sold on the fact that Po is up to the task, but they are going to need a black belt in patience if they are going to turn this slacker panda into a kung fu fighter before it's too late.
Speaking of Tai Lung, I like how they made him seem like a huge threat by having him in a seemingly inescapable prison surrounded by 1,000 guards. However, after being locked in there for 20 years with no type of recreation, how was he able to still have top notch fighting skills? In fact, he was getting no physical activity at all and yet he appeared to get even stronger. It's not like he was hitting weights in the yard. Yes...I know I'm reading too much into this for it to be a cartoon.
The reason I had waited so long to watch this was I didn't see how they were going to make it fresh by having a big panda trying to learn kung fu. All that I kept thinking of was a cartoon version of "Beverly Hills Ninja". As much as I liked Chris Farley, that wasn't one of his better roles. So seeing an animated take on it wasn't real high on my priority list. Once it came on HBO I got a better look at the fact that not only did it have Black but also the voices of Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu as well. That was worth a look.
I probably should have foreseen the route they would take "Kung Fu Panda". Here is an overweight panda with no fighting skills so how would they possibly train him? Well they had to associate the training in terms of something he would understand: food. Once Po was able to find his own unique fighting style by correlating it with fighting for something to eat, he was finally able to become more deadly. Maybe "Beverly Hills Ninja" could have been better had they explored that possibility.
The best animated flicks usually work when you can see the personality and/or traits of the star in the main character they are voicing. That's exactly how it was with Po in "Kung Fu Panda". That's what made it so amusing to watch. Black comes across cartoony in most of his real-life roles anyway so this was just taking the next logical step for him. The plot may have been extremely basic and the message a very familiar one, but it was still very entertaining.
My rating: B+