Short version: Kung Fu Panda is arguably the best animated movie Dreamworks has produced so far.
Sure, the commercials and the trailer are pretty funny, but is the actual movie any good?
Kung Fu Panda is the closest that Dreamworks has managed to get to the quality and feel of a Pixar film, and that's a good thing. Although it's rated PG like previous offerings from the studio like the Shrek series, here we're missing the sharp edge and subtle "adult" humor.
Does it hurt the movie? Absolutely not.
This movie put a smile on my face right from the first thing that appeared on the big screen: a stylized version of the usual Dreamworks logo sequence that blends and leads right into the opening of the movie. The opening itself is "awesome" (see the movie and you'll get the reference. The animation is highly stylized 2D and beautifully rendered in both style and action. Plus it's laugh out loud funny to boot.
Soon thereafter we switch over to 3D CGI and again, really amazing visually. The detail and character design is fantastic and a pleasure to watch. Here we get to know "Po" the panda (Jack Black) and his father at the family noodle restaurant. "Dad" is a goose, but apparently the implications of that are lost on Po. Po has dreams of being a heroic kung fu master, but his dad is looking forward to his taking over the family restaurant. They have a good relationship, but dad is oblivious to Po's real ambitions. On the other hand, Po doesn't want to disappoint his father.
Po is a young, overweight fellow whose dreams seem to definitely exceed his abilities. He is accidentally chosen to fulfill a prophecy and joins his heroes, the legendary "Furious Five": Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. Their master instructor is the great Master Shifu. The prophecy calls for the selection of the great "Dragon Warrior," whose task it is to defeat the evil snow leopard Tai Lung, who has escaped from prison.
Following the very funny opening sequence, the movie seems to try a bit too hard to be funny for a while and while some of the bits are fairly funny, not all of them work for adults (kids on the other hand will laugh through it all). However soon enough the film finds its footing and combines heart with genuine humor. If you're a martial arts/action movie fan in particular, much of the action in the film will leave you very satisfied. There's a prison escape sequence that is jaw-droppingly cool.
As a matter of fact, I would say the action and fight scenes shown in this movie should be studied by the current crop of movie directors out there right now. You can actually see and understand what's going on during the one on one battles. Fights are shown from a distance, without a lot of super-quick edits and with appropriate slow motion shots thrown in to enhance what we're seeing. All in all it reminded me of those classic kung fu movies from the 1970s. Much better than the manic quick-cut, super close-up way of filming fight scenes today.
Then there's the wit of the film, displayed throughout - in particular, the method found by Master Sifu to finally motivate and train Po was inspired. Jack Black was fairly subdued and it worked quite well, and the supporting characters were enjoyable too. I didn't even recognize the voices until I saw the closing credits. Oh, speaking of which, hang around until they're done as there's a touching scene at the very end.
I highly recommend Kung Fu Panda for both kids AND grown-ups. :-)