Jack Black’s Kung Fu Panda is fun, but it’s got no kick

Jack Black animated movies
Po the panda is voiced by — and shaped like — Jack Black.
Po the panda is voiced by — and shaped like — Jack Black.

By all means, gather up the little ones and take them to this perfectly pleasant, very good-looking, modestly funny movie. But be forewarned: It's a dispiritingly unoriginal variant on the nerd-with-a-dream recipe that's been clobbered to death in animated films for at least a decade now.

Hectic as ever, Jack Black voices Po, a potbellied panda who's stuck making noodles with Dad, even though he lives and breathes kung fu trivia and longs to become a Master. (For reasons that escape me, Dad is a goose, voiced by James Hong.)

The call comes from a pint-size Zen guru voiced by Dustin Hoffman, under whose grumpy tutelage Po and five other trainee critters with famous voices band together to save the world from a disgruntled snow leopard, handled by Ian McShane.

The movie's design is striking, the colors are gorgeous, and the fight sequences are pretty suave — but the adorability quotient is set a little high for this jaded palate. And is there a child around the movie-going globe who couldn't lip-synch by now the smug sloganeering about following your bliss, playing to your strengths, and learning to be a mensch in good times and bad?

Department of small mercies: For once, the moral voice comes more out of Buddhism than the Protestant work ethic. So we're looking at a smash hit in Marin County and Dharamsala.

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