Blazing across the screen with eye-popping, sublime artwork, Kung Fu Panda sets itself apart from the modern domestic animation trend with its sheer beauty. From an opening dream sequence whose abstract style seems culled straight from a modern manga, the film enters instant classic status as some of the most gorgeous animation Hollywood has produced since the golden age of Disney. Eschewing the cold and severe art of Dreamworks' Shrek films , the makers of Kung Fu Panda fill the screen with painterly backdrops of mountain vistas and fluttering leaves that give Zhang Yimou a run for his money. It somehow makes it all the funnier to have the titular panda, Po (Black), come huffing and wheezing through the impeccable and non-specific ancient Chinalandscapes like a less-active relative of Hurley on Lost.
Standing at first between Po and his future as a chubby warrior of destiny, however, is not Tai Lung but the star pupils at the Jade Palace, a jealous menagerie of kung fu animal superstars composed of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Chan). Trained by master Shifu, a diminutive red panda voiced with appropriately embittered edge by Dustin Hoffman, as a lightning-quick squad of kung-fu-coolness, the five resent the panda-come-lately and don't make things easy. Wouldn't you know: Po makes them reconsider their assumptions, and learns a few things about himself, and the true meaning of courage along the way, particularly after the lightning-quick and merciless Tai Lung shows up.What helps Kung Fu Panda succeed is not just the classic beauty of the animation but also another way it avoids the Shrek pitfall by steering clear of that series' flat irony and tired snark. Po's journey to enlightened martial arts coolness is modeled quite explicitly on old Chan-style films like Drunken Master (the fighting style that Po eventually takes on is actually a more PG-friendly variation of that used by Chan), where family unity and service to the community is prized above all.