Kung Fu Panda

Animation film voiced by Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, and Angelina Jolie. Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
Running Time: 92 mins
Rated: Rated PG (animated violence, some scenes may frighten young children)

This is the latest blockbuster cartoon fantasy that in its opening weekend in the USA grossed $60m, ranking No. 1 at the box office, and premiered at the recent Cannes film festival in May, 2008.

It tells the story in cartoon form of a chubby, awkward Panda, Po (Jack Black), who is a noodle assistant to his duck father, and who is accidentally chosen (ultimately, wisely so) as the great Dragon Warrior who must defeat Tai Lung (Ian McShane), the dreaded leopard warrior. Tai Lung has been imprisoned but escapes to bring vengeance on the Valley of Peace, where Po lives. Clumsy and ill-fitted to the role, Po comes to grips with the disappointment of others who wanted the mantle of the Dragon Warrior for themselves. Tai Lung, who has gone across to the dark side, is the former student of Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and Shifu must now train Po to defeat Tai Lung. Five disappointed applicants for the mantle of the Dragon Warrior come eventually to respect Po as he defeats the leopard warrior in clumsy and comical fashion; included among them is the Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie). Ultimately, Po's accidental choice proves the wisdom of the grand master Oogway, who knows there is no such thing as an "accident' and that Po is the right choice.

Tai Lung lusts after the sacred Dragon Scroll which promises ultimate power to whoever possesses it. There is a strong philosophy behind the movie which carries a sound moral message: things matter and become special, because they are believed in. The sacred scroll has nothing on it; what really counts is the power that lies within oneself. Po suddenly finds that he believes in himself and discovers the strength to overcome Tai Lung. Tai Lung refuses to accept the message that power comes only from within, and Po uses his new-found strength to defeat him.

This film is essentially a martial arts comedy and is a total action movie. It has striking effects and action sequences and a particularly impressive concluding fantasy sequence which brings Dream Works to a new level of technological sophistication. There is a strong cultural feel about the movie and it heavily draws on Chinese culture to bring authenticity to its fantasy. The voices behind the characters are instantly recognisable, particularly Dustin Hoffman as Shifu and Angelina Jolie as the disappointed Master Tigress.

For an hour and a half in this movie, the viewer is exposed to almost constant acts of physical aggression. That may not matter to those who can distinguish between fantasy and reality, but to those who cannot, they risk being negatively affected by the constant exposure to the film's violence, even though it is in fantasy form. This is a movie where there is adult action and adventure packaged to appeal to children, and the film plays one kind of appeal against the other. Just as the film's classification warns, there are scenes that may frighten young children, and responsible adult-parents should pause a little before they advise their children to go to a movie that is all about "kung fu fighting' and meant to be very entertaining to those in their care.

Paramount Out June 26

Peter W. Sheehan, Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.