Directed by: Mark Osborne & John Stevenson
Written by: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Ian McShane, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan

It’s hard to dislike a movie that means well. It is also hard to like a movie that doesn’t really do anything new. These two factors balance out to make Kung-Fu Panda, the latest animated hit, pretty average.

I’m getting tired of big name celebs being the main selling point for animated films. Last year’s Ratatouille used some name actors but didn’t exploit it like most. Also, if you’ve seen Ratatouille you should be able to tell that the hired players were chosen only because of their talent. Panda has been touting the blockbuster cast in a disgusting manner. After this year’s Horton Hears A Who, which did the same with Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, I expected similar results. It turns out that Jack Black’s personality enhances this movie and his job is likely the highlight. The rest of the cast aren’t bad but the usage of famous actors (Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan) is nonetheless pointless.

The film opens up with a superb 2D (with some 3D) sequence. The animation here is fresh and exciting. The narration is entertaining and hilarious. Then it gives way to CG. Turns out our hero, a rotund panda named Po (Black), was only dreaming. Too bad. I’m not against 3D animation, I just think that it’s not always the right choice. Especially when the studio in question isn’t raising the bar. No film has matched the stunning visuals of Ratatouille, although Pixar’s next project, “Wall-E”, is poised to take a stab at it later this month.

The story is very basic. The unlikely hero Po, a big fan of Kung-Fu, is accidentally selected as the chosen one. Well, at least it seems like that, but the wise kung-fu master states “there are no accidents”. The “Furious Five”, which is the local quintet of Kung-Fu experts, are surprised and disappointed that one of their members was not chosen. Their master, Shifu (Hoffman), is outraged and at first attempts to subtly convince Po to quit. I assume you can see where this is going, and that’s the the problem with the film. It is so familiar you probably could have the entire plot mapped out before the movie even starts. Luckily, the execution here is very good, and the movie, overall, is quite fun. The beginning and end are especially enjoyable while the middle is a little weak sauce. The head of steam gained by the excellent opening doesn’t take long to run out and the flick doesn’t get it back until the 3rd act.

The plot and animation are a bit tired but Jack Black propels Kung-Fu Panda past mediocrity. It is fun, and the kids will love it, but it is certainly not must-see material. There are however, worst ways to past the time until The Dark Knight arrives in just over a month. What other purpose could any piece of art or entertainment serve until July 18th, anyways?