It's an interesting dilemma for families at the box-office this week...
First, there's the new Adam Sandler flick "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," a PG-13 rated return for Sandler to the land of juvenile humor, physical comedy and assorted body fluids. The film is likely to be a gas for its teen/young adult target audience, while younger kids shouldn't go near it and adults aren't likely to find it quite as funny as their younger counterparts.
Then, there's the Jack Black-led "Kung Fu Panda," an animated full-length feature with a predictable, clearly kid-targeted storyline yet so captivatingly beautiful that its young audiences will fall completely in love with Jack Black's kung fu fighting Po while older teens and adults ponder sneaking next door for "Zohan" while mom catches "Sex and the City" for the second or third time.
Set in China's Valley of Peace, "Kung Fu Panda" presents your basic "believe in your self" storyline through the tale of Po the Panda (Jack Black), an adorable panda who toils away helping his father (James Hong) make noodle soup while secretly fantasizing about being a martial arts hero.
When the nearby temple's head monk, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has a vision that the feared Tia Lung (Ian McShane) is about to escape from prison to wreak havoc upon the Valley of Peace. The search begins for the new Dragon Warrior, a great warrior who will save the valley. This Dragon Warrior will most assuredly be one of the five apprentices of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman); Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross) or Tigress (Angelina Jolie).
Rather predictably, it doesn't turn out this way and the rather portly Po is selected by Master Oogway, much to the chagrine of Master Shifu and his pupils.
The journey that unfolds contains no surprises. Adults will easily be able to see where this is going, however, children are likely to delight in the masterfully choreographed kung fu scenes. While the choreography often defies the laws of physics, well, umm...this is a kung fu fighting panda we're talking about, right?
Jack Black does a fine job as Po, though he seems practically tailor made for a character who requires not much more than childlike enthusiasm for the film's running time of 90 minutes. While he never makes you forget he's Jack Black, his enthusiasm is infectious and it's easy to get swept up in Po's awestruck journey towards becoming the Dragon Warrior.
The two primary other players, Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu and Ian McShane as Tia Lung, are equally as infectious. One can easily picture Hoffman being able to pull of this part as a live-action character, while McShane's menacing voice work makes Tia Lung feel like a live-action presence.
The rest of the supporting cast performs quite ably, however, they really aren't called upon to do much. I will confess that on at least one occasion as Jolie popped into a scene as Tigress, I found myself flashing back to "Beowulf."
In case you're wondering, that's not a compliment.
Often witty and filled to the brim with exciting choreography that advances the storyline quickly and with great zest, "Kung Fu Panda" certainly isn't going to be a critical darling like the Pixar films, however, it is likely to be a box-office winner with its kid friendly graphics, pacing and that adorable little panda.
While "Kung Fu Panda" isn't likely to please the entire family, this does happen to be one of those rare weekends when there's something in the theatres for everyone. So, hey families...let's call it a "Zohan," "Sex and the City," "Kung Fu Panda" weekend.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic