When Dreamworks heard about WALL•E they must have been quaking in their boots. I can imagine the panic in the studio now: "What the heck can we do to combat this?" "Shrek 4?" "Something about a badger... maybe with a balance problem?" "We're doomed I tells ya! Dooomed!" Fortunately, the studio bigwigs simply sat down and calmly thought up a simple, funny and generally entertaining film about a fat panda who dreams of learning Kung Fu. Stick in some high–calibre voice talent ranging from the affable comedy of Jack Black (who plays the eponymous panda) to the classy deadpan stylings of Dustin Hoffman via the icy femininity of Angelina Jolie and you're onto a genuine winner.
The strangest thing about this amusing animation is that this plethora of talent is, by and large, given very little to do. The premise: a village is under threat from a menacing snow leopard, Tai Lung, who has escaped captivity and is seething with rage (somewhat justifiably I'd say) at not being given his rightful place as the Dragon Warrior, with its accompanying access to the powerful Dragon Scroll. While Ian McShane puts some real bite in the bitterness of the moody moggie, the group of warriors who set out to stop his rampage don't have much to play with. We're barely given the chance to notice that Seth Rogen is there and Jackie Chan in particular is criminally underused as Monkey.
But for all my moaning about wasted potential and lightweight storylines (something you'd never get at Pixar), it must be said Kung Fu Panda gets the funny right, and that's the real crux of this movie. From beginning to end I was laughing, snorting, chuckling and smirking at a wide array of gags to please all comedic tastes. There's a mass of obligatory slapstick to calm the frantic and well-animated fight sequences so the little ones don't get scared, there were the odd parodies of old Kung Fu movies (and the newer animated versions knocking around on the cartoon cable channels) as well as a healthy dose of quality one-liners. The opening sequence is a masterful combination of all three, as we're treated to a delightfully silly dream sequence which introduces the quirks of the main character, a warm-up for the subsequent merriment. The quality and quantity of the comedy is probably helped by the simplicity of the tale: because it's so recognisable from the genre formats, the writers are freed to play on the stereotypes and spared the concern of leaving the audience behind.
So, thinking about it, when you combine passable animated Kung Fu fights, a gaggle of gags and a host of vocal talent with a release date which gives Dreamworks a chance to rake in some cash before the (small robotic) champ enters the arena, you have a recipe for a pretty successful release. Good work, folks!